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Sault's tax base is starting to shrink

Still, Sault Ste. Marie's financial position is 'far better' than other comparable Northern Ontario cities
10-21-2020 Facelift 1
On Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2020, work continued on the long-overdue recladding/reglazing project at the Ronald A. Irwin Civic Centre. David Helwig/SooToday

Sault Ste. Marie City Council will be told next week that the all-important property assessments on which municipal taxes are calculated have stopped growing.

Net assessment growth as of Sept. 30 was down .05 per cent compared to .13 per cent growth at the same time last year, says Jacob Bruzas, the city's manager of finance.

The biggest declines are in occupied commercial properties (down 1.13 per cent), occupied shopping (down 4.33 per cent) and occupied office buildings (down 3.34 per cent), Bruzas informed a meeting of the city finance committee on Wednesday, through a written report.

"It's unfortunate that we've seen that decline in growth from our commercial sector," said Ward 2 Coun. Luke Dufour.

"It may be something that the finance committee and council want to take a look at in the future," Dufour said, pointing out that residential assessment was nonetheless up .19 per cent.

"We had that very tiny bit of negative growth. It would be nice to see the needle moving in the other direction," he said.

"I just want to make one quick comment," remarked Shelley Schell, commissioner of finance and treasurer.

"It is net assessment. Part of the issue isn't just that there wasn't any new growth. It was offset by assessment decreases – people who put in for changes to their assessment. We've been seeing a lot of that in the commercial sector," Schell said.

In other news, Ward 2 Coun. Lisa Vezeau-Allen pointed out that COVID-19 has so far cost the city $3,567,899.

The following, as compiled by Bruzas, are changes from the operating budget as of Sept. 30, 2020:

  • sewer surcharge revenue (-$2,147,554)
  • municipal accomodation tax revenue (-$196,219)
  • property tax revenue (+$12,000)
  • property tax interest & penalties (-$871,645)
  • supplementary tax revenue (-$225,000)
  • accounts receivable interest & penalties (-$13,078)
  • transit revenue (-$803,019)
  • transit expenses (+$202,772)
  • public works fuel expense savings (+73,172)
  • recreation facilities revenue (-$1,411,269)
  • recreation facilities expenses (+$844,029)
  • marina revenue  (-$91,635)
  • marina expenses (+$29,973)
  • John Rhodes Centre rent revenue (-$23,114)
  • school crossing guard expenses (+$101,931)
  • provincial offences court expense savings (+$54,818)
  • summer student expenses (+$684,058)
  • benefit expense savings (+$663,500)
  • job vacancy expense savings (+$108.761)
  • electricity expenses (+$222,827)
  • fire overtime expenses (-$39,515)
  • fire permit revenue (+$25,964)
  • fire fuel expense savings (+$11,948)
  • casino revenue (-$753,020)
  • interest revenue (-$11,383)
  • NOHFC loan interest expense (+$2,278)
  • miscellaneous expenses (-$187,686)
  • travel & training expenses (+$388,553)
  • police services expenses (-$220,340)

Schell said she'll have a full report for City Council on Monday, outlining how provincial pandemic funds are being allocated here.

Malcolm White, chief administrative officer, said the City of Sault Ste. Marie's financial position is "far better" than other comparable Northern Ontario cities.

"We've been fortunate in that our municipal footprint is more focussed and smaller than a number of the other cities who are operating services that we don't."

"We've taken decisions in the past to bring ourselves down to core services only. We'll use the provision of daycare services as an example of that."

"Sudbury operates a municipal ski hill. No one else does that. Sudbury will have to face a decision as to whether they continue to subsidize a municipal ski hill," White said.

"Taxes fund approximately 65 per cent of the city’s budget, including local and levy boards," said Bruzas.

"It is the main source of funding to provide municipal services, including those essential services, such as transit, waste water services, landfill and waste collection, cemetery, building permits/inspections and road maintenance, that are still being provided to the community during the pandemic."

Monday's City Council meeting will be livestreamed on SooToday starting at 4:30 p.m.

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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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