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Barrie Council deliberates $691 million capital plan, amidst fiscal challenges and slowing economy

Craig Millar, the Chief Financial Officer of the City of Barrie, presented the 2024 city services operating budget and capital plan. He emphasized that preparing the budget was a collaborative effort involving many staff members. The budget process started in May, with a budget direction memo to the council in June. New legislation introduced by the province on July 1 was also incorporated into the budget. The strong mayor’s act requires the mayor to present a budget to the council by February 1, a deadline they met.

Millar highlighted the financial policies and frameworks guiding the budget, including guidelines for reserve funds and debt usage. He proudly mentioned that Standard and Poor’s maintained the city’s AA+ credit rating, emphasizing the importance of this in terms of saving on interest costs. However, he noted that the city’s reserves are under pressure due to growth and rehabilitation needs.

Addressing city services, Millar pointed out the significant impact of inflation, with a net increase of $9.2 million in expenses, mainly due to contracted services and salary costs. He also discussed the tax rate impact, highlighting the average assessed home value in Barrie and explaining changes in operational subsidy reserve draws and debt management.

Millar then moved on to discuss new investments and service recommendations, emphasizing the challenges of balancing needs and financial resources. He mentioned the anticipated assessment growth of $6 million, which helps offset costs, and provided an overview of the city’s operations budget, highlighting the primary sources of funding, including property taxes and contributions from reserves.

The CFO also outlined the capital plan, totaling $691 million over four to five years, with various projects and funding sources, including development charges and tax capital reserves. He stressed the importance of monitoring these funds closely, especially in the face of potential economic downturns.

Millar concluded by discussing the city’s debt forecast, noting a decrease in outstanding debt and the need for strategic debt issuance in future years to support growth and infrastructure development. He encouraged council members to continue sending their budget-related questions and concluded his presentation, handing it back to the chairman.

In the discussion following Craig Millar’s presentation of the 2024 city services operating budget and capital plan for the City of Barrie, Mayor Alex Nuttall engaged in a detailed review and debate over specific aspects of the budget. The conversation primarily focused on the allocation of funds, the effectiveness of proposed budget items, and the need for fiscal responsibility in light of growing demands on the city’s resources.

Mayor Nuttall, along with other council members, scrutinized several budget items. They discussed the impact of keeping certain positions temporary versus making them permanent and the financial implications of these decisions. Mayor Nuttall also raised concerns about the transparency and accountability of budget items, especially around temporary positions and their conversion to permanent roles, suggesting that this could lead to an unaccounted increase in the budget.

The mayor and council members emphasized the need to ensure that budget allocations align with the city’s strategic priorities, including infrastructure development, waste management, and community services. The discussion revealed a collective effort to optimize the budget for efficiency while maintaining essential city services.

The meeting concluded with the decision to adjourn and reconvene later to continue the detailed examination of the capital budget and other amendment proposals. This demonstrated the council’s commitment to thorough and responsible budget management for the City of Barrie.

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