The city of Thunder Bay is looking to cut services/ costs to allow for more financial flexibility when it comes to future budget decisions. They have started a ‘Core business review’ with the idea of saving $500,000 annually for the next couple of years to around 1.5-2 million total savings. This has come under fire because of recent decisions by councilors to keep open different operations that they felt were ‘quality of life’ services and necessary. This brought into question what is a quality of life service and what is just something that is nice to have. Below I will list what I believe we can cut in order to make the city a leaner and meaner machine when it comes around to budget time.
Municipal Golf Course – Cut. Thunder Bay and area had 13 golf courses of which 3 are owned by the municipality. This is a huge number for a city and surrounding around with a population around 120,000 and isn’t sustainable. Golf numbers have declined year over year and the decline is even worse at city run courses. While municipal is known as a easy golf course because its only 9 holes and fairly flat the course isn’t even on City of Thunder Bay lands. It sits in another municipality in which the course pays taxes to it rather then the City of Thunder Bay. The people who go to this could could also be easily accommodated at the other easy privately run course such as Northern Lights. The saving of $100,000 annually could help us to repair another section of sidewalk or fill a number of potholes around the town. With 2 other golf courses the city would also be able to provide for a good place to play during the warmer months. I believe that cutting this course is sensible for both The City of Thunder Bay and Oliver-pappooinge.
Golf Director – If the city decides that its time to part with one of the courses then the golf director needs to see a reduction in his pay. He was brought into to make the golf division of the city self sustaining but has forced many out with larger green fees and costs. Cutting his wage 15-20% would provide another savings for the city which could be used to reduce the amount golfers pay at city course which could bring more back. It should also be considered that this position is eliminated and golf returns to the parks division with the savings passed on to golfers or the coffers.
Snow Removal – Reduce. Thunder Bay has had it easy when it comes to snow removal because eventually the city will come and do it. While many city’s have moved away from this and forced the residents to clear out their driveways and sidewalks. The city is looking at possibly cutting this service or reducing it in order to save money. Personally, I feel that this is something we should be reducing but doing so in a friendly way to disabled and elderly. Residents should have to clear out their sidewalks in purely residential areas but sidewalks in commercial and main areas (memorial) would continue. The city could clear the sidewalks where there are seniors who are unable to do the work on their own or provide a tax reduction to a neighbor who would be willing to take on the extra work. Reducing the number of people used for clearing sidewalks could allow for more people to be clearing roads or a reduction in staff producing cost efficiencies. Reducing the number of times that the grader comes down residential routes could also help to reduce costs, waiting till the snow reaches 15cm could be a starting point for non strategic routes.
Sports Facilities – Realignment – Thunder Bay has a huge number of sports facilities from soccer fields, baseball diamonds to arenas spread out all over the city. Many of these are in poor shape due to the inadequate spending by previous administrations and fixing all of these might not be in the best interest of the city. Bringing together these facilities which are now ‘neighborhood’ based to a larger segment of the city could provide for cost savings and allow for more things to be done at a single place. The Port Arthur Arena and Grandview arena are both relatively close to each other but one facility is in much better condition then the other. Adding a second sheet of ice to the Port Arthur Arena facility along with some other upgrades could allow for the Grandview rink to be closed. The savings from not having to heat and power this older facility could help to improve other sites around the city. There was also the question of how many baseball diamonds the city needs to own and service. The city currently has in the high 60’s of which many are no where close to regulation or in great shape. Creating facilities like Balsam pits could be a good plan for the future in reducing the number of diamonds we have but also making sure the ones we have are in good shape. Updating the city parks division plan to realign its facilities could be a good decision.
Green Space – Reduce and Improve. In recent news it was announced that a company had purchased the old Sir John. A Mcdonald school and would be using it as a technical office. The purchaser also stated that they wouldn’t be subdividing any of the green space which sits around it for housing and that they wouldn’t put up a cell phone tower. While its nice to see something become of my old school it is also sad to see the opportunity lost to bring in massive amounts of tax incomes. There is a large amount of green space which is under utilized and has been since the school was closed down. This area has become a haven for drunks and drug use because of the security provided by the lack of people. I believe that if we added a section of housing into this are we could provide for more security and income. Below I have provided a picture of the area which could be used for residential housing and areas which could be left alone for green space.
A old parking lot and basketball courts would be lost due to the residential housing but they could be rebuilt to a higher standard and much better maintained elsewhere. The income would help to reduce costs elsewhere and be beneficial to the employees who would be living in the area. In building on the areas we have already settled will be important into the future in stopping urban sprawl.
Density – Upgrade. One of the problems with Thunder bay is that it is a stretched out city without the population base to support the size. We have seen massive increases in taxes to help properly support the amount of urban sprawl we have. The city planning department needs to focus on building within what we already have and building more density. Toronto had the problem of people moving away from the downtown core until the allowed for high rise condo development and pushed developers to build in the area. This success has drive the density in Toronto to new heights and brought in more money to the area. One measure of this success if the 3 billion dollar plan to build 3 70+ story high rises in the downtown to help support the massive growth in the area. These super sky scrapers are just one plan which is changing the sight lines of downtown Toronto and this could be applied to Thunder Bay. Allowing for high rise building in different areas could help to increase the density that the city is taking on and help to repair older infrastructure instead of building new stuff. The city of Thunder Bay has 2000 km of roads (2011) and 46% of it is considered good/ok which is well below the provincial average. If we want to continue to trend of spending the money on new roads and only replacing a small amount of old stuff then we will see more potholes and washouts. The need for density is important to the future of out city and making sure we improve it will be important.
Employee number – Reduce. Thunder Bay’s population has declined but yet the number of city employees has increased. We need to seriously consider how many people we have working to get the job done properly and do it in the most cost effective manner. Overall the city may need to look at reduce the number of positions it has by around 100 to bring it back into line with the population. While this should be done through attrition if possible if reducing staff by lay off or severance packages are necessary the city should wait till the employment opportunities have improved to allow for a seamless transition. While this topic will be hotly contested within the city and in the city’s departments the need to have a sustainable city will be important for the future.
The city’s mandate on this project is to find efficiencies. It is to make the city leaner and meaner when it comes to budget time and to reduce the burden on city taxpayers. What goes and what stays will be up to the public and to the Councillors around the table. It will be important to figure out what is important for the city to have and what is nice to have. Unless we get back the industrial tax base that we once had it might be impossible to have all the extras that we had in the 60’s-70’s.