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City taxpayers will see no residential tax increase this year

Tuesday, April 15, 2014   by: Darren Taylor

City council unanimously approved a zero percent tax increase at its 2014 budget meeting Monday night.

A resolution to do so was put forward by Ward 2 councillor Terry Sheehan and seconded by wardmate Susan Myers.

City staff’s recommendation was for council to take $1.4 million from a larger-than-expected 2013 surplus of $3.6 million and use it to ease the levy, and to approve a 1.35 percent increase (or $35.47 in taxes paid).

Instead, council chose to put $2.1 million towards the levy and give taxpayers a zero percent tax increase.

In a recorded vote, Mayor Debbie Amaroso and all eleven councillors present approved the zero percent resolution.

Council’s move came despite words of caution from Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Joe Fratesi, who has advised council in past budgets to not use surplus money to ease the levy, but for funding of one-time expenditures only.

Speaking to reporters, Fratesi said the move is a gamble but respected council’s decision.

“Next year they need to make sure there’s a surplus and I don’t know if some of those features that presented themselves this year to make up that surplus are going to repeat themselves,” Fratesi said.

“We (city staff) cautioned them, and we thought 1.35 percent was pretty good…we tried to give the very best budget we could bearing in mind that budgets are not just about one year (but also about planning for future years).”

“There are chances that staff can’t recommend be taken, but certainly council has the option to take it to zero,” Fratesi said.

“Obviously we now can proclaim that we have the best budget in Northern Ontario, one of the best among communities our size…at the end of the day it’s a responsible budget.” 

Ward 1 councillor Steve Butland told council he doubted serious consequences would follow if council approved the zero percent increase.

“We’ll deal with next year’s budget when it comes…people are calling for a break on their taxes,” councillor Sheehan said.

Factors that led to the larger-than-expected surplus of $3.6 million from 2013 include a decrease in the District Social Services Administration Board (DSSAB) levy, a smaller amount of support requested from the city by the physician recruitment and retention committee, higher grants and lower costs at the city landfill, corporate supplementary taxes, corporate interest and penalties on taxes and an Ontario Municipal Partnership Fund (OMPF) reconciliation payment, among others.

Under the revised budget council passed Monday, $2.1 million of the $3.6 million 2013 surplus will go towards easing the levy, $300,000 towards a ditching program in the wake of last fall’s flooding, $45,000 will go to the Black Road rail crossing project, $925,000 towards resurfacing of part of Great Northern Road and $200,000 to construction of canopies over exits at the Northern Community Centre.

The city will continue to make payments on the $750,000 it gave towards the Ermatinger-Clergue National Historic Site’s new Heritage Discovery Centre.

Major roadwork projects included in the 2014 budget are resurfacing of Queen Street East from Pim Street to Gravelle Street, work on March Street from Queen to Wellington Street East, Second Line widening and bridge and aqueduct improvements.

There is money available for a multitude of projects, ranging from work to be done on recreational centres, the Civic Centre, Sault Fire Services main fire hall, parabus and mid-size bus replacements for city transit and an excavator for the Sault Ste. Marie Region Conservation Authority.

There will also be repairs done to the Sault Ste. Marie Museum roof and the Memorial Tower near the Essar Centre.

$15,000 in funding was approved for the Museum Ship Norgoma.

Other expenditures approved by council Monday, from the city’s five percent Subdivider Fund, were another $125,000 for a bicycle pump track for Esposito Park (on top of $50,000 already earmarked by the city for that project), as well as funding for outdoor fitness equipment, a leash-free dog park, and Strathclair Park lighting for slo-pitch, for a total of $266,000.

Moving forward, the city’s final contribution to its share of funding towards the new Sault Area Hospital will be made in 2014.

With that, Fratesi said retirement of the city’s hospital debt and a portion of the city’s share of casino revenue may now go towards work to be done on city-owned facilities recently identified as in need of repair in a city Asset Management Plan.

City staff estimate $29 million will have to be spent over the next several years to repair city-owned buildings, including the Civic Centre.

“Between casino funds and the hospital levy being retired, and if staff brings a report to council and gets them to commit before the next budget, these things will take care of that fairly significant beast (the cost of city-owned building repairs) that needs to be fed,” Fratesi said.


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Pakadeva 4/15/2014 1:24:38 AM Report

VERY good news about the taxes!
I am also happy to see the $15,000 in funding approved for the Museum Ship Norgoma. It's part of history & it would be such a shame to change the face of the waterfront in such a drastic way. Maybe a lot of people don't go on the ship, but, I walk there a LOT & many many tourists ask lots of questions & very interested in the ship.
Thanks for the good news:)
Number One Son 4/15/2014 1:43:51 AM Report

Notice how they just "slipped"in the extra $125,000.00 ($175,000.00 in total)for a bike park. We should all write "sucker" on our foreheads.

This is an election year, .... we will pay through the nose next year.
keeper 4/15/2014 1:44:10 AM Report

Election year people, thats the only reason there is no raise in taxes but wait until next year when they are all elected again.....cover your behind.

They really want you to forget all the screw ups. we should be cutting the reducing to one alderman per ward would be a good start.
SammH 4/15/2014 3:01:04 AM Report

While I like the idea of my taxes not going up, I still seriously hope somebody else runs for Ward 2 this year... Very sick of being stuck with Sheehan and Myers.
Just Curious 4/15/2014 6:53:37 AM Report

So , no tax increase=no infrastructure catch up work.... Definitely an election year.. We will pay for this in a big way....
Mr. Poster 4/15/2014 6:58:18 AM Report

I would rather see a "nominal" tax increase each year so that there is a bit of money to work on our roads. For instance that section of HURON street from Cathcart to Albert we really want tourists to drive through that forever?
B Boy 4/15/2014 7:14:40 AM Report

Although I appreciate not having to pay more taxes, the council's back slapping over their "best budget in northern Ontario" needs to stop.

All one has to do is drive around and see the state of the roads & other infrastructure to see why their debt burden is low - they haven't been putting the $ needed into the aging infrastructure. The city has been warning about the storm sewer system for years as an example.

I could easily cut my personal budget if I really started skimping on home maintenance, repairs & upgrades.

I thank the council, but I also warn them. Modest increases are safer. None of us are clairvoyant.
BrianTheDog 4/15/2014 7:17:54 AM Report

Whaaaat!!! Someone pinch me! O% tax increase!

Kudos to Sheean for moving the resolution and kudos to all of Council for voting for a 0%!

Poor old Joe didn't get his way for the first time in four years!

superior87 4/15/2014 7:45:22 AM Report

Whine about taxes all you want, but that's how infrastructure gets paid for. If there becomes an issue with infrastructure in the city, as has been mentioned already, you know where to look.

Now all the councillors and mayor can tout 'no tax increase' because it sounds nice, but we'll see if it is a smart idea. The costs of living are always going up, so it's hard to see how taxes shouldn't go up, otherwise you're going to be getting less for your tax dollars in terms of infrastructure, etc.

We'll see what happens.
Beej 4/15/2014 7:54:31 AM Report

As the city crumbles..
HONEST1 4/15/2014 8:00:30 AM Report

Yup I can fix the City Hall. Easy and cheap. Fire all the lazy people in the building!!! Start with that and than lower our taxes. We got ripped off the last couple years. We pay higher taxes than most cities now!!! City hall employee salaries are a licence to steal from the tax payors.
Wisenheimer 4/15/2014 8:21:45 AM Report

Mr. P. .. How about GNR from 2nd to 3rd line. Tourists get Cathcart on the way in and that disgrace on the way out.
Nice boat though.
taxpayer 4/15/2014 8:30:03 AM Report

When you look at the increase in home market value assessments from 2008 to today at over 30%, it means that the city's residential tax revenues have increased 30% over the same time frame. Yet the budget keeps creeping up year after year, as the city asks for tax increases. Anyone ask the next question? Why?
ThinkAgain 4/15/2014 8:34:58 AM Report

Election year was the only reason, I think that's the 1st time I ever saw Joe wearing a suit.
Gumby54 4/15/2014 8:36:55 AM Report

Easy for Old Joe to caution about giving the rest of his subjects a break on taxes. Not too many people can give themselves a Position in local government and then a yearly increase in wages well above the rate of inflation. Sad when a CAO makes statements with little regard for the vast majority of people who have had no increases in wages in years.
Right Winger 4/15/2014 8:51:45 AM Report

Full on election year budget. Surplus last year. Defecit this year likely. Watch a year from now.
Vicci 4/15/2014 8:59:43 AM Report

Anyone else see the irony in Joe cautioning about a 0% increase. If memory serves me correctly he passed a few as mayor. He’s been down this road before and knows how the ride ends.
irish07 4/15/2014 9:00:20 AM Report

bike park... ok but put it in a central location so the tax payers that are paying for it can use it .. bellvue park or some other city property so all will use..
Gentleman 4/15/2014 9:10:41 AM Report

Well done City Council for standing up to Staff and doing what is right for taxpayers in a time of economic restraint and stagnant wages. With a 3.6 million surplus, there is no reason to increase taxes. Give City Departments money and they will find ways to spend it. We already pay too much tax.
mvnnth 4/15/2014 9:18:57 AM Report

"When you look at the increase in home market value assessments from 2008 to today at over 30%, it means that the city's residential tax revenues have increased 30% over the same time frame."

Not necessarily, tax revenue is generated by applying the mill rate to the assessed value of the property. The mill rate will be raised (or lowered) to generate the revenue to meet the needs of the budget.
Point Blank 4/15/2014 9:40:32 AM Report

Isn't this exactly what Fratesi did to get re-elected? That also resulted in little to no improvements to infrastructure while he was in office. Then, he jumped ship, gave himself a cash for life job and left the City infrastructure/tax issues for subsequent mayors and councils to deal with! Wonder how much of history will repeat itself?
With no tax increase, he must be wondering how he can justify giving himself another salary increase.
Take a close look around people. This City is crumbling down around us. We have water issues, sewer issues, road issues, power outages, reduced services and maintenance and no new industry or jobs. However, we do have a spiffy new PUC building, a lovely waterfront City Hall with free on-site staff parking (not so much for visitors or tax payers)and more "$100K/year club" members this year than last!
Its time that we have a city council and CAO that puts the interest of this City before their own.
I don't mind a modest tax increase, IF, we are going to receive something for it - like improved services and/or infrastructure. However, if it would only be used to pay for further salary increases, or, to appease some minority special interest group, then I'm all for a zero tax increase.
mallet 4/15/2014 10:04:59 AM Report

I don't live in the city, but I do have to come in for things, and while it is nice to not have a tax increase that also means that lots of stuff like roads and sidewalks, parks and buildings do not get the maintenance required. The road coming off the bridge and turning left is one spot that could do with a little attention, Gt Northern, as said, between 2nd and 3rd line (how long has it been 5 lanes) really needs attention, City Hall, do you leave your house without maintenance for over 25 years, and where does the money come from? Are you waiting for the governments to give you a hand out, they are broke too. I sit on a LRB every year we ask for an increase, not a lot 50cent or maybe a $1 a year levy increase for we know that next year prices for work will have increased. Do not forget the winter maintenace budget went out the window this year, will you be able to dig that deep into reserves next year if the same happens or worse? how about pot hole filling, this year will have played havoc and the frost is not out of the ground yet, wait until it has all gone then see what is needed. I know it is nice not to increase taxes, but it is a false economy, next years will be a real increase...

Wisenheimer... that $15grand would only do a couple of hundred yards of single surface treatment to a road, the $125grand might do a couple of Klicks, let us just hope that if they get it off the ground the bike park will not be trashed in a year...
D.M. 4/15/2014 10:08:16 AM Report

Yep, must be election year!!
Mr. Poster 4/15/2014 10:37:06 AM Report

Please !!!!!!! Someone run in Ward 2...we need a big change there.
MYPOINT 4/15/2014 10:58:38 AM Report

is as follows .....

I think there should be a modest 1.5 % increase in our municipal taxes every year ( including election years ) for the next 20+ years and that this fixed increase be mandated for use on fixing up the deteriorating infrastructure in our city ONLY. Bringing this year's tax increase to 0 % means that our city infrastructure is only going to get worse over time. I firmly believe that the ONLY reason that these current city councillors went to 0 % is due to the fact that there is an election coming up and most want to keep their cushy jobs if at all possible. Some councillors were content with the minor 1.35% increase but were bullied into accepting the 0% increase in my opinion.

Fratesi is an idiot if he believes that nobody in this city has had their pay frozen for the past few years. Most of us who do not work for the city per se , have had our pay frozen for the past few years ( some due to new Provincial Government regulations ).

I think it is time to change our local politics in this next election. I would like to see the following two changes made but I seriously doubt that iether will ever happen until enough people in this city revolt.

1) We should immediately go to 'city-wide' elections instead of 2 councillors for each ward and the total number should be reduced to a maximum of 10 councillors ( not including the Mayor )

2) ALL city staff ( anyone earning more than $100 K per year ) should have their pay frozen for the term of each new council and then each of their pay raises should be a maximum of 1% of their current pay whenever a new council is elected. At the current time, many of our current city staff are overpaid for a city this size.
guard1 4/15/2014 11:25:39 AM Report

I will take the 0% tax increase for the surplus was the taxpayers money in the first place. We know that it is tied to this years election. We should not get fooled by this one time thing to assist in relection. It will not sway my vote for change. Change is good.
Mr. Poster 4/15/2014 11:28:32 AM Report

One councillor pre ward is plenty.
Dreamer 4/15/2014 11:41:59 AM Report

Any city staff that have over 100 thousand for a pay are not union.
OW jus lost another case manager, they are not replacing, putting the burden on the front line workers!
razor25 4/15/2014 12:24:45 PM Report

Can't please everyone. If there's an increase, some people complain. If there's no increase, other people complain. Myself, I'll happily take the zero percent increase this year after all the increases I've had in other years. I don't think this will become a regular occurrence so you know what people, enjoy the one year break and quit complaining for once!
pastoutla 4/15/2014 12:56:14 PM Report

Din't Joe just get a 4.5% raise ? ?
S.M.A.R.T. 4/15/2014 1:07:38 PM Report

Glad to see that people aren't fooled as to the motivation for this decision. As for those who think this zero % increase is great; WAKE UP! You'll pay for it through a larger increase next year (2015), and the next (2016), and the next (2017), but NOT the next (2018).

As for the bicycle park; just another instance that makes me wonder just who it is that runs this city. Is it our city council or the special interest bicycle clan? Enjoy your simpleton Queen St. bicycle lanes next spring as you dodge the potholes that could have been permanently repaired with the funds wasted on this ill-advised bicycle park.
tosimple 4/15/2014 3:31:48 PM Report

A bike park??? Ya that should bring in the tourists..... What a waist of tax payer money!!!! Ya the old ship really draws tourists in too. City council is turning this city into another Elliot lake...
SLV1931 4/15/2014 4:21:07 PM Report

Imagine they spent money on things that actually created a cashflow? HA! Imagine that!
macgyvr 4/15/2014 9:29:55 PM Report

I guess they all voted themselves in again. Why do we need a bike park? Why so much to repair CITY OWNED buildings? What raises did they give each other? I'm going back to sleep.
ti-guy 4/15/2014 11:34:20 PM Report

mypoint4 is right again! I wish people like you would run in these elections, but we always wind up with a lot of peole who may have wanted to do what is right at first, but, GREED always seems to take over their lives..... and this is from the municipal to the federal appointees.....
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