Kenora mayor says council still looking to reduce budget

Mayor Andrew Poirier said city council is still trying to find ways of lowering the tax levy increase for this year.

The operating budget was presented at the committee of the whole meeting on Wednesday and will go to a vote at the next council meeting on March 22.

Currently the proposed operating budget would reflect a $1.53 million — or 5.36 per cent tax levy increase — from last year’s budgeted tax levy. This includes items such as the adoption of a new salary grid for non-union staff, adding one additional full time staff member, and an increased contribution to the Kenora District Services Board for land ambulance services.

Poirier said operating budgets usually drive tax increases for most municipalities and council has been discussing this one for quite some time before it was presented on Wednesday.

He said the proposed levy reflected one reduction which came from the discount the province offered for policing costs.

‘The amount that we ended up agreeing on with the Solicitor General was $511,417 to be exact,” said Poirier — adding the amount works out to about a 1.8 per cent decrease in the levy.

“They heard our case from the coalition. The minister said he'd look at it and he did and I gave him [and his staff] a lot of credit for that. That's the number that they came back with and it was really not a negotiable amount. It was an amount that they were willing to offer otherwise there was really nothing on the table.”

He said council decided to accept the money and it has helped with the budget this year, but still leaves questions about future years.

He said the drug crisis is another reason for the increase in operating costs.

“It's a concern for everybody because that's one reason why our policing costs are so high,” he said. “One thing that came out in the budget for 2023 was our portion of expenditures for EMS or ambulance calls, they've spiked considerably.”

“When we have all these issues with people, unfortunately, overdosing or taking drugs and requiring medical attention, part of those costs come back to the municipality in those two forms,” he said. “Then we have the added costs of all the social agencies that are dealing with it and then our local hospital and its emergency department. Everybody is paying the price for this.”

Poirier said one way to reduce costs is to see if they could reduce the calls for service, which currently stand around 18,000 to 20,000.

Council will still look for more efficiencies in the budget, he said.

“The rate we're at right now, for myself, it's a little too high,” he said. “I'm not comfortable with that rate.”

Poirier said he will table an amendment to phase in the new non-union staffing pay grid instead of starting it retroactive to Jan. 1.

He said there would be some cost savings from the $395,000 that would be added to the budget if the pay grid started from the beginning of the new year.

Poirier said the amount saved is still unknown as administration is calculating the numbers for a later start date, but that it would reduce the tax levy increase from the proposed 5.36 per cent.

Eric Shih, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Thunder Bay Source