News Local

Blended increase of 3 per cent approved

By Patrick Bales, The Orillia Packet & Times

The average Orillia home owner is expected to see their property tax bill increase $104 in 2017.
The blended tax rate --­ factoring in the municipal increase and the credit the city will receive in education taxes -- is estimated to see a 3% increase for next year. That translates into an extra $8.66 each month on a home with an assessed value of $250,000.
Orillia city councillors approved the municipality’s budget at a special council meeting Monday night. But even after almost 25 hours of deliberation last week at budget committee, councillors still had plenty to say about the projects that make up the 3.83% municipal tax increase.
Despite that, the budget looks identical in its final form as it did at the end of the budget committee’s meeting Wednesday. A handful of changes were proposed, but only the motion put forward by Coun. Sarah Valiquette-Thompson made it through.
The councillor wanted her colleagues to approve an extra $3,000 for the physician recruitment committee, bringing the contribution from the city to $18,000 for 2017. That money would be used to help the group with its goal of opening a walk-in clinic in Orillia, making accessing health care for the 6,000 people in the L3V area code without a family doctor that much easier.
Coun. Ted Emond wasn’t convinced the committee had shown it warranted an increase.
“They did not bring a credible business case for an increase in their budget,” Emond said of the request, which amounts to a 20% jump in what Orillia would contribute. “I’m looking at what they prepared... and it doesn’t hold water.”
Mayor Steve Clarke ultimately floated the idea which made up the compromise amendment that could give the committee its money. Instead of adding the $3,000 straight to the tax levy, the physician retention committee will be asked to come back to council to present a business case for the extra cash. If councillors are satisfied with what they hear, that money can be released from the operating contingency fund.
From the recommendation of budget committee, six items were pulled from the agenda for further discussion in an effort to change the direction of council. All six were pulled by Coun. Mason Ainsworth; he was not successful in swaying the majority of his colleagues to change their minds in any situation.
As had been the case during the previous meetings, some of the smaller potential increases to the budget caused the most amount of consternation around the council table. Ainsworth particularly singled out the $7,000 needed to re-hang the mural in the lobby of the Orillia City Centre and $9,000 to install a street light at the end of Borland Street East as completely unnecessary.
However, both he and Valiquette-Thompson set their sights on larger items that didn’t directly impact the tax levy but still represented spending they saw as questionable.
Valiquette-Thompson was concerned about the lasting impact of the $1.6 million Udell Fieldhouse upgrade, paid for almost exclusively from the parks reserve. Discussions with a constituent caused her to question what could happen in emergency situations after the reserve was drained by this project. Treasure Jim Lang explained a variety of funding options could present themselves in such a hypothetical.
Emergency preparedness or not, Ainsworth didn’t think it needed to happen.
“(It’s) $1.6 million for a washroom that no one’s used in numerous years,” he said.
The fieldhouse upgrade, a project long on the books in the parks, recreation and culture department, is identified in the parks, recreation and culture master plan and the J.B. Memorial Park design plan update.

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