THUNDER BAY – CIVIC – One of the key areas of responsibility for a Councillor is to represent his/her constituency and this means engaging in an ongoing two-way communication. We hear from many, but how can we also inform the citizens in a proactive way to let them know what is happening on the key areas of concerns to them? Writing articles on a range of subjects is one way and I appreciate the opportunity to engage in a dialogue with our citizens.
As the budget sets the stage for how the tax dollars are being spent through the provision of services during the year, it is important that citizens be involved in the process. They will now be able to participate in a pre-budget consultation at a community hall meeting where they can ask questions of administration and provide ideas and suggestions prior to Council’s detailed review of the budget. The meeting will be held at the 55 Plus Centre on Thursday, Feb. 4, from 6:30-9 pm.
For the 2017 budget, the community consultation will start much earlier in June 2016.
With municipal inflation running at around three percent, it is now becoming more difficult to balance citizens’ expectations for reasonable tax increases and the delivery of community services. While we have experienced some good revenue growth in the last few years and we have much to be thankful for in our city, we are now facing new challenges that are socio-economic in nature (homelessness, poverty, crime and safety, addiction, mental illness, etc.) and climate changes that are placing tremendous strain on our roads, infrastructure and local resources.
Within this context it is useful to consider the outside perspective of a Credit Rating Agency like Standard & Poor’s that recently gave our city an AA-(stable) Credit Rating.
The AA- rating basically supports our current direction of fiscal prudence and improving budgetary performance. Other positive aspects of our current financial picture are:
* Management of debt and liquidity is prudent
* Financial Statements are comprehensive and transparent
* We have a 20-year capital forecast
* Thunder Bay Gross Domestic Product per capita is close to provincial averages of $50,000
They have also indicated some limitation in reducing operational costs (contractual agreements and wage pressures, cost of materials, energy and others outside of our control and growing faster than the rate of general inflation, etc.) and the over reliance on government jobs that while positive in providing a stable economic environment, has some risks during times of financial constraints from the provincial and federal government.
The S&P report also indicated that we can increase our rating even further if we can grow our revenue, control costs and improve on some key financial indicators over the next few years.
Given the new challenges and limitations identified above, I believe that we need to be much more strategic in our approach to growing our city and tax base. The city’s new strategic plan was developed through community feedback provided to councillors during the election, town hall meetings and input from key community partners. It now also includes key performance indicators that will help guide the City towards specific goals.
One such goal was a three-year budget planning process that has already been launched and will be discussed at the Feb. 4 pre-budget consultation. The time has now come for practical, achievable and measurable growth goals and in future articles I will provide additional insight in how the city’s approach to budgeting and taxation needs to evolve in order to better deal with multiple challenges of declining transfer payments, economic uncertainty, and changing citizens’ expectations about the provision of services at the local level.
Frank Pullia is Councillor at Large for the City of Thunder Bay and Chair of Committee of the Whole – Administrative Services (including Budget deliberations). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 767-6579. Comments and feedback are welcome.