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Demand for police, ambulances drives up our property taxes

Social Services cuts deep to keep the municipal levy down
2022 budget
The lion's share of expected cost increases in 2022 come from levy boards and local boards including city police and Social Services

The draft city budget to be unveiled tonight calls for an increase of just 1.87 per cent in that part of the municipal tax levy that's directly under their control.

But if you're hoping your property taxes will rise by something in that range, you're likely to be disappointed.

The city has little or no control over spending by local and levy boards like District of Sault Ste. Marie Social Services Administration Board, Sault Ste. Marie Police Services Board or Algoma Public Health.

And in this year's deliberations, which begin tonight with presentation of the draft 2022 city budget to City Council, that's where the fiscal pressure will come from.

For starters, the city police budget is up a staggering 10.2 per cent this year.

The local police services board is allowed under provincial law to set its own budget, which gets dropped directly into the municipal tax levy.

But if the city decides police estimates of what's needed to provide adequate and effective police services are inaccurate, it may appeal to the Ontario Civilian Police Commission.

Allocating more taxpayer dollars to local police appears to have strong support.

A SooToday online poll of 3,770 readers conducted from Oct. 8 to Oct. 13 found 26 per cent identified police as the service to which they'd allocate more city funds.

That was far ahead of the next most-popular choice – social, community and senior services – which was preferred by 16 per cent of our readers.

A poll of 392 citizens conducted as part of the city's 2022 budget feedback process found that police services was the most popular response to the question: 'Pick the top five City of Sault Ste. Marie services that are most important to you,' followed by roads and sidewalks.

Social Services

Then there's the District of Sault Ste. Marie Social Services Administration Board, better known as Social Services or DSSMSSAB – an acronym as difficult to remember as the myriad diverse services it provides.

The city has even less to say about Social Services spending than it does about the police budget.

Ontario's District Social Services Administration Board Act requires that the "municipality shall pay the amounts required to be provided by it for its share of the costs of social services to the board for its district, on demand."

End of story. There are penalties if the city doesn't pay.

The preliminary city budget being presented to councillors tonight includes a two per cent placeholder for expected increases from Social Services and Algoma Public Health.

That won't be enough.

As recently as earlier this month, going into its own budget discussions, Social Services was looking at another staggering levy hike – 8.19 per cent.

Much of that was due to the addition of eight permanent full-time paramedics – a new $1.39 million, 24-hour ambulance crew needed to cope with an unprecedented surge in ambulance calls.

Last Thursday night, the DSSMSSAB managed to whittle that increase down to 3.11 per cent.

To accomplish that, among other things, it will draw on its emergency medical services reserve fund.

Coun. Dufour concerned

Ward 2 Coun. Luke Dufour, who chairs the Social Services board, said that aside from the unexpected need for another ambulance, DSSMSSAB has essentially brought in a zero-increase budget.

Dufour nonetheless expressed nervousness about one of the cuts, the Investing in Change fund.

"That fund has done some really important work in our community," he said.

"Had we not used that fund to start up Harvest Algoma, I have no idea how we'd be getting meals to the Bel Air, the isolation shelters, to all of these critical services."

"Even our homeless shelters are receiving meals from Harvest Algoma. That was only possible by this Investing in Change fund. The low-income home ownership pilot program – that was seeded by the Investing in Change fund."

"That Investing in Change fund has been critical to drive innovation across the social services sector," added Mike Nadeau, Social Services chief executive officer.

"It is the only pot of money that we've had at our disposal that we can use based on what's going on in the community... and fill gaps. Everything else is a patch on provincial policy."

Dufour warned: "I don't want to see this get taken out of the budget every year because of levy reductions."

Algoma Public Health

Struggling with the battle to control COVID-19 and to maintain other community heath requirements, Algoma Public Health is also fully outside the city's control.

The provincial Health Protection and Promotion Act requires area municipalities to "pay for the expenses incurred by the health unit in its performance of its functions and duties set out by the act... at the times specified.

The health unit is planning to hire 15 new full-time employees.

Its latest $19.6-million budget, approved last week, is up 2.45 per cent over last year.

Sault Ste. Marie Public Library and the Sault Ste. Marie Museum will also be seeking supplemental increases tonight.

Capital budget

The city's 2022 capital budget, meanwhile, proposes spending $38.6 million on what White terms "core infrastructure renewal and fleet and equipment acquisition."

$16.2 million of that is for road construction, with the following projects planned over the coming year:

  • Cedar Street
  • Dufferin Street
  • Angelina Avenue
  • Bloor Street West
  • Southmarket storm sewer
  • Northern Ave. improvements
  • Connecting link Trunk/Black Road
  • Bridges and aqueducts
  • P-Patch access road
  • Engineering – 2023
  • Various roads


"This increase includes a COVID-19 impact of $944,700," says Malcolm White, the city's chief administrative officer.

"At the time of writing, we are experiencing our highest COVID case counts out of the pandemic. While we had hoped to be returning to normal or ‘new’ normal operations for the 2022 budget year, it is apparent we will be dealing with pandemic pressures well into the new year," White says in a report to Mayor Provenzano and councillors.

"Given the above, it is staff’s recommendation that the COVID-19 financial impact outlined in the budget of $944,700 be funded through the tax stabilization reserve, thereby reducing the City levy increase to 1.11 per cent."

What comes next?

After tonight's preliminary meeting, City Council will meet on Dec. 6 and 7 to make any needed needed adjustments to both the capital and operating budget.

A report to be presented tonight from chief administrative officer Malcolm White flags an adjustment for minimum wage and potential adjustments to levy boards as possibilities.

The final tax rates will be set in March or April of next year.


David Helwig

About the Author: David Helwig

David Helwig's journalism career spans seven decades beginning in the 1960s. His work has been recognized with national and international awards.
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