City of Thunder Bay Budget 2016 – Wants/Wait and Toss

Editors Note: Updated on 01/24/2016 to make some changes, grammar/spelling and introduce some more lines of content to add clarification

Want:

EIRP Program reinstatement

– The EIRP program was introduced in order to reduce the amount of infrastructure deficit that the City had under its belt. Every city has a deficit and many have followed Thunder Bay’s lead in reducing this through a designated tax allotment of between 1 – 1.5%. We have seen much progress towards reducing the infrastructure deficit with the Thunder Bay plan. We saw the negatives associated with it last year when council and administration decided to defer the program. Road projects were delayed, scrapped or seen their scope reduced in size. I want this program to return and start to invest in the Infrastructure that the City of Thunder Bay needs. Many projects have been put off for years and we need to see them finished; every year delays means a huge increase in the cost in the next year. I would like to see a change where the program focuses on more complete projects for example: when your ripping up a road your changing the sewers, storm sewers, internet lines, roadbed, sidewalks, beautification and then the resurfacing. These total projects get the most amount for the money when we look at these projects. It also avoids the issue of ripping up roads only to redo it a couple years later for sewer or water issues.

Transit Operational funds/pilot project/transit land use

– Transit is one the of the best ways to get more for your infrastructure dollar and help to improve the environment. Thunder Bay is a very large city with very low density which means that it takes more money to provide a reliable service to Thunder Bay transit users. I would like to see more money allocated to Thunder Bay transit in order to help make the system run better and improve the way it operates. A more reliable services means more people will use it and create a cycle of use.
– Transit A) Thunder Bay transit uses a lot of fuel and per person it takes on average 6 people on the bus in order for it to be environmentally neutral. Thunder Bay also has very high cost associated with fuel which means that City of Thunder Bay operations can be negatively impacted quite heavily by rate hikes. Thunder Bay transit alone spends $44,000 for every penny that the cost of a litre of diesel goes up which steals money from the service as a whole. I would like to see Thunder Bay Transit run a pilot project on electric buses in order to reduce this cost. While they have a higher initial price cost the savings in the end in diesel will more than make up for the cost.
– Transit C) Thunder Bay has a very low density meaning that it has to stretch farther and work harder to get people to ride these service. Working with the planning department the City should work to create reduced tax zones around transit routes which would be available for high ride, medium rise and higher density buildings. These people would be more likely to take transit and would increase the ridership numbers for Thunder Bay. It would also increase city density and reduce the cost to the city’s infrastructure.

Sports Assets

– The City of Thunder Bay needs to commission a report on how it can be improving, replace or eliminate some of its venues like baseball diamonds, arenas and other sporting venues it operates. Many of the rinks for example are built to 1960’s standards, standalone facilities, are extremely cost ineffective and don’t meet the needs of their users. Grandview and Neebing arena are too small, costly and don’t meet the needs of its users. A 2006 report on city venues recommended these 2 for closure and replacement as they were costing the city almost $1 million dollars between the 2 of them. We need to see venues are that are more flexible to the needs of the residents, meet accessibility needs and work with city growth into future. Looking to other cities like Orillia where their venues are multipurpose. The rotary club has 2 sheets of ice, space for a resturaunt and other related shops but it also has attached on the land other sporting facilities to act as a draw. If the ice is down then the sports field bring in people to keep the facility active and full of life.

Consumption Tax:

– We have all hear people say “I don’t use that facility why should my taxes go up in order to pay for that service” etc. etc. They are in some means right why should they pay the full cost of a service which they neither use or benefit from. Someone out in McIntrye doesn’t likely benefit from an improvement to a ball diamond in Westfort and someone in Neebing doesn’t benefit from a rink improvement in Grandview. I believe that the people who get the most benefit out of a venue or an asset that the city owns should pay for it repair and operations. While there is the cost to rent the venue it doesn’t pay for it annual costs. I believe that the city should implement consumption tax to help with repairs. For example, a rink rental is roughly $200, we would reduce this price by 5% on the operational side of the budget. This would leave the cost to rent ice at $190 and if we were to use the consumption tax of 15% this would bring it to $218.5 of which $28.5 would be directly saved for that venue. The cost would bring down revenues to the operational city budget but reduce the capital city budget by 10% more than loss of revenues. Which would be a positive for the city budget to reduce capital costs. This concept of adding money to these specific venues will reduce the capital cost at these specific venues and they would free up money for other venues that maybe are not as often used. If the city rink runs 6 am – 11:59 pm which is 18 hours a day and the rate of $28.5 I saved up per hour. After a day of use the consumption tax has added $513 ($28.5 x 18) and a month they add $15,390 ($513 x 30). Which means every 2 months they make enough money to purchase a new scoreboard and the $185,000 a year the tax generates for the venue goes into much needed repairs and upgrades.

Electric power:

– The City of Thunder Bay through Thunder Bay Hydro have invested a lot of money into solar power production. Yet, the city itself still relies on traditional gas/diesel engines to power its fleet of vehicles. Not every vehicle needs to be electric but it would be a good investment for the city too look at green vehicles and introducing them to the fleet. Introducing charging stations in parkades, city sites, parks and other items to increase their use by the public. The money saved through electric vehicles reduced non-renewable energy resource consumption would be huge and provide the savings necessary for the city to reinvest in other items. Many charging stations have a small cost associated with their use and this can lead to revenue for these items but it also allows people who may be considering green vehicles more peace of mind when it comes to the purchase of environmentally friendly vehicles.

By law Enforcement Officers:

– If you knew that come 4:30 pm Monday to Friday, you wouldn’t get a ticket for parking illegally; would you pay? Most people likely wouldn’t and most likely don’t. We need additional parking enforcement and bylaw enforcement to make sure that the city is getting as much revenue as it can from these infractions and fines. It’s not acceptable to have the city unregulated come a certain time because you don’t want to pay people to do a job. The revenues from the tickets would be much greater than the cost and would keep people honest. Businesses in the downtown cores rely on available parking for customers and we cannot have people sitting for hours in specific spots. We also need more bylaw enforcement officers to reduce the amount of time police are spending with silly items like noise complaints, parking, clutter and more. A bylaw officer is paid less than an average police officer and they are better suited to be dealing with these issues. Additional bylaw enforcement officers means more revenue, you free up police officers reducing OT and provide a better service to the city. On that note the city ticket office also needs to stop being so lenient when it comes to traffic tickets and who pays/doesn’t. More often than not tickets were reduced or eliminated by people working the ticket booth. Accidents happen where it is the mistake of the ticket writer, clerical errors and more. We need to hold people accountable for their actions; what’s the point of writing tickets if they get ripped up. If $1000 worth of tickets walks out the door every day because you’re being nice that works out to $365,000 annually. Its unacceptable to be paying people to do a job and not benefit from the proceeds of these tickets. These funds could be used to pay for new services or maintain the ones we have.

Wait:

Road Expansion:

The City of Thunder Bay is a very vast and large landscape meaning the cost of delivering service, infrastructure renewal and more is greater. One item that has come to mind is how the City has been so prudent on expanding exterior roads making it easier for suburban drivers to get around. The people who want the joys of the city life but also the joys of living rural. We cannot afford to continue these policies of expansion outwards and providing additional vehicle capacity on rural roads. Valley road is just one example of a suburban road that was expanded to meet capacity which is helping to promote suburban living. The additional road use is coming from people who are living in newly developed residential out on the edges. This is neither beneficial environmentally, tax wise or smart city planning. We need to do better than this and build our city up rather than out. Urban density and renewal allows us to build on the existing infrastructure that we have and bring in additional revenue. I applaud the city for allowing in late 2015 a project to advance that would eliminate a single house and replace it with a much larger house on the site. The difference in tax revenue is around $15,000 and only benefits the city as it sits on existing infrastructure.

Urban-Suburban costs

Residential Development in the burbs:

– While there may not be large chunks of land in Thunder Bay established that can handle new subdivisions we need to be doing a better job to reduce the amount we are allowing expansion into forested and swampland. Northwood is one example of city planning gone bad, we continue to develop into a swampland which helps mitigate floods, collects runoff and promotes wildlife. Yet, we wonder why these areas get so badly hit in storms and then also end up spending millions upon millions for flood reduction and mitigation. Smarter city planning is a must. Looking to other cities and planning we need to try and find ways to make higher density structures and planning easier to process and easier to get through the approval process. If that means they are assigned priority or we create incentives for these projects then we need to do that.

Conservatory expansion:
– Recently a story came out that the city put the conservatory on its list of projects for the Canada 150-year birthday fund. I must say that I instantly face palmed at this news, the conservatory use numbers is very limited due to its poor hours, lack of maintenance and general issues. The city recently installed a counter to determine how many people are coming to this site and how well it is being used. That money should be held onto if it is given to the city in order to determine if this facility is something we want to hold onto. If a viable business plan can be brought forward with this new building to market the facility, have it become as revenue neutral as possible and meet more citizens needs then we need to do that. If we can’t then this facility needs to be looked at for the cutting block. Its been years since I have personally been to the conservatory but I must admit its a very beautiful site. We have allowed it to degrade to a point where the costs may be prohibitive to continue and operate it.

Editors Note: I must give credit where it is due. There is a citizens action group that has worked very hard to make this facility a more enjoyable and prosperous place along with a lot of city workers. I commend them for this action.

Assets:

– I would love for the city to keep everything and do everything but unfortunately we can’t so we as a city need to have the discussion on what we can and can’t do. We have assets that we don’t need and we have assets that we cannot afford anymore. We need city hall to look at its assets and make the tough decision to cut items. It will not be politically easy and it will not be clean but we need to make these decisions. I would much rather have the city offer 4 services it does exceptionally well rather than 10 it does mediocre to ok. Items like campground are in my mind not a city service we should be in. That is something that can be offered by the private service and done for a profit. If we can shed some of these items that are on the fringes of city services then we should and reinvest that money in things we are already doing great on.

Lack of Technology use:

– We live in an age where there is so much technology available that we could save the city millions by doing this more effectively. I am no expert at snow plow operations but we have all seen how a sidewalk plow pass and clean off the sidewalks only to have the road plow come an hour later and undo all his good work. Doing a job twice doesn’t make any sense, doesn’t help productivity and burns money. If we were using more effective tracking services, we could know that Section A is done its good for the sidewalk plows to go through and they won’t have to come back to clear it off again. Or Section C is still a work in progress hold off the sidewalk plows till they are able to finish. Crews could be on the road and receive information on storm sewer work or other work that needs to be fixed with the right technology we could have these crews provide up to the minute updates, do their paperwork in their vehicle and then onto the next call without ever having to come to the office. We need to invest and the workers/admin need to get on board with these changes. Instant communication between the boss and the employees on work that is being done. This could then be passed on to citizens and provide a more transparent and open government. The Government of Ontario has started a program to introduce tracking for snow plows so citizens know when and were they are on the roads. We need more opportunities to improve all our city operations by introducing the right technology in the right hands.

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Event Center

The Thunder Bay Event Center wasn’t and never has been about a AHL team, tourism or how much money a facility could make. It has been about investing in the community that we call home and taking pride in our city. Thunder Bay currently has an arena that is 60 years old and doesn’t meet the needs of the people today, going forward or 20 years into the future. Councils of past have deferred this conversation until almost at the bitter end (Major renovations required in the 2020 range). Every year we delay we are one year closer to having to spend millions on a facility that can’t accommodate those with physical or mental handicaps. It grows harder for an older population to access and doesn’t meet the desires of an environmentally friendly young generation. Businesses are being left to wait for an answer from the city and the electorate to if they will have their major boost. We are left with a decision to make on whether we need to build this center or not and I believe the answer is yes.

Our city is undergoing a major transition from its resource based roots to a more diverse and stable economy. We seeing the errors of our ways when we decided that building on the fringes was the best option. The mindsets of city leaders, planners and developers are now about centralizing and supporting the things we already have. The city determined through an impartial third party that the city members supported this and that the marina was the best option. It’s the best option because its supported by the surrounding businesses and fits in the city’s plan to upgrade our community. It’s about improving the image of our community, supporting the businesses and community members that make the city tick. Most importantly it’s investing in us, our community and our people. We take pride in the fact that we have the most hockey players per capita but yet our facilities are underfunded, old and falling apart. We complain about the conditions of our infrastructure… well ladies and gentlemen this is a part of that infrastructure and it has been neglected for too long. We need to proceed with the plan for the event center and invest in our community. Our region is small so busloads of people will not come to the facility but the people that come out to support the Lakehead Thunderwolves will continue to come out. The parents who support their kids through hockey seasons and comes to the games will come and fill the seats of the event center.

This plan is not perfect, it will need some revision and the community should be able to provide ideas for this but we cannot let a minority of people express their thoughts louder than those in the majority and perceive them as right. We need to do what is right for our community today, tomorrow and 50 years from now when they look to a new building. People say a lot of things about this plan and how its negatives outweigh its positives. The fact it will lose money or the fact that we won’t ever be able to truly support a professional team. To me this project gets people so amped up because it has that potential to really bring the community together and be that spark that lights a fire under people. It is a major change from the way the city has conducted itself in the past. It challenges the mindset of thousands of people into a new, greener way of thinking. A downtown location is the best option for not only Thunder Bay but for major sports arenas around the world. We have seen Edmonton, Calgary, Minneapolis all look towards their downtown cores as the best option for their redeveloped arenas. We are even seeing Kanata look and see the error of their ways with the development of the Ottawa Senators home arena so far away from town. This project is about more then simply saying we want to have world class hockey here in Thunder Bay.

It’s not about the money, the AHL or a downtown hotel. It’s about the people of this community and giving them the chance to attend a world class building. It’s about investing in ourselves and making ourselves a stronger community and how we represent ourselves to those around us. Our city needs to have that boost where we invest in the recreational facilities that we as a community enjoy. This is about improving the quality of life that we expect to have in our city. The money issue can be figured out as well as the parking but I believe that this is truly about us as a city.

Lets build it Thunder Bay.

Open Letter to Thunder Bay City Council: Back to Basics

Thunder Bay is entering into a period of fiscal restraint and decisive decision making which it has yet to see before. Budget deficits, MPAC reassessments, globalization and infrastructure deficits are all combining to force Thunder Bay’s hand when it comes to the decisions it makes now and into the future. Thunder Bay’s city council, administration and citizens need to be willing to accept change, embrace hard decisions and sacrifice. We need to part with, make sacrifices in order to sustain overall gains made over the last 50 years. Hard decisions will need to be made during the 2015 and future budgets but these decisions if laid out correctly will effectively repair Thunder Bay’s foundation for the future.

I am writing this open letter to ask a single member or council members to bring forward a recommendation that core services from now on be fully funded and effectively managed. These core services would include Infrastructure & Operations, Emergency Services, Transit, Administration and other provincially required mandates. Bringing these different operations to full funding in order to effective preserve the mandate in which the municipal government is required by the Municipal Act. After these services are fully funded and operational providing services to institutions like the Shelter House, Thunder Bay Art Gallery etc.. with funding that is requested if available. Our core services have been eroded in order to fund pet projects, well intention operations and items beyond the city’s scope. A return to our basic services will be hard and some operations will fail but we need to provide the best service possible and then go above and beyond.
Thunder Bay was recently given a C rating by an internal report which outlined the state of our infrastructure within city limits. This report states that we are severely underfunding our infrastructure and running an annual deficit of around $17 million dollars. It needs to be a priority for the City of Thunder Bay to raise the proper amount of funding for infrastructure to protect not only itself from liability issues but provide citizens with safe, clean infrastructure. The Enhanced Infrastructure Renewal Program (EIRP) is an effective start but more money will need to be allocated through the capital and tax supported budget moving forward. Returning to basics in how council funds projects would see items like roads, sewers, sidewalks along with city own buildings be renewed and upgraded at a much faster rate. Using money currently allocated for other items would provide both potential tax reductions for citizens or potential cost reductions in deficits and backlogs of projects. Roads when left to decay often cost much more then if they were replaced at their proper time frames. We annually add cost to our bill by deferring projects to the next generation.

The Event Center is a hot topic in Thunder Bay but it is an effective means of taxpayers money when it comes to replacing existing city owned property. The benefits of the project have been laid out in the Phase 3 report found here: http://www.thunderbay.ca/Assets/City+Government/Event+Centre/docs/Phase+3+Feasibility+Study+Report+Presentation.pdf. Along with replacing aging city own venues this building will make use of existing infrastructure and increase the tax values of neighbouring businesses. As an infrastructure project I feel it is something that needs to be promoted and pushed ahead. Our current facility has seen its life come and go and needs to be replaced. This is not simply a facility replacement but needs to be a representation of the community as it stands today and where we hope it will be in the future. There are many ways to reduce the cost associated with this building and managing its operational costs.
Emergency Services are a hot button issue for Thunder Bay but we are seeing the detrimental effects of under-budgeting annually. Thunder Bay Police Service are expected to run a deficit in their budget and are asking for additional money come budget 2015 to ensure capital budgets are maintained at effective levels. I personally feel that it is more prudent budgeting to set aside more for these departments then to annually come back with deficits. Providing the departments with their proper budgets means they will come back with budgets in the black annually. This will help for future budget projections and to maintain emergency services effectiveness and operations. Thunder Bay needs to receive some help from the emergency services in order to maintain these budgets going forward. We need to look at the potential for items such as a volunteer-public operation of fire halls in the suburban areas of town. Reducing the number of firefighters on city payroll with volunteers can be an effective way of providing fast and reliable service but at a reduced cost. Thunder Bay Police could also look at a auxiliary program to get more officers onto the road and have more 2 man vehicles for officer safety and cost savings. Many businesses experience a majority of their costs with wages and our emergency services are no different. If at all possible wage increases should be maintained at inflation or below for both Thunder Bay Police Service and Thunder Bay Fire Department. Population stagnation and a tax base collapse has caused these two items to become a significant strain on the overall budget. These jobs are difficult and deserving are paid very well but lower costs associated with wages could allow for increases in personnel or increased assistance with items such as mental health. We can have a productive meeting with the members of both groups and come to a outcome that works for both groups.

Transit is an important part of the lifeblood of Thunder Bay. Thousands of people use the system daily and it helps to reduce the strain on city infrastructure, the environment and negates negative health effects. The transit system will need more then funding from council to maintain its service and grow the system. It needs a promise from Thunder Bay city council and administration to fast track development along its routes. Promote density around the areas of its terminals/stops and provide the citizens of Thunder Bay with a fast and effective system. A fully funded transit system will provide many benefits for its citizens and could help to rein in the outward urban sprawl that has been sapping Thunder Bay of infrastructure dollars. In a follow up blog post I will present a proposal to change Memorial Avenue to be as transit friendly as the Mississauga Express Link. There are a number of bright, young individuals coming up in the transit management such as Mr. Jon Hendel who will see Thunder Bay Transit through to its future. Introduction of new routes and improving existing ones will be important for its promotion as a viable option for travel. Working with businesses and events to show people who normally wouldn’t travel transit it is viable will be important for its exposure. I am extremely proud of Thunder Bay transit for having a completely accessible transit system. This is something that all citizens should be proud of.
There are a number of provincially mandated operations in which Thunder Bay needs to operate and should continue to operate as effectively as possible. Operations such as the DSSAB, Pioneer Ridge retirement home among others should be funded to the provincial average.

Providing these departments with their respective required funding will not be cheap and will require that the Citizens of Thunder Bay lessen their requirements/expectations of the city and allow for services to be reduced or eliminated. Below are a number of services and items, I personally believe should be looked at in order to reduce the cost associated with the city.

City print shop – Many private operations can do this

City owned Daycares – Daily losses of $3000. Sell these spaces to the private sector and rent the buildings to these operations.

Reduce number of ball parks/soccer fields – Number is too great to support and maintain

Close Neebing Arena and Grandview – Buildings cost $1 million in annual losses. Replace with a second sheet at Port Arthur Arena and Delaney.

Close the Conservatory – $600,000 annual losses or 0.6% tax assessment

Eliminate sidewalk plowing for residential areas (minus those heavily populated with seniors)

Reduce Staffing associated with these areas and simplify the management throughout the entire system.

Sell Trowbridge Campground and Chippewa Campground

Introduce technology to make working away from desk (on site) easier for staff members

Introduce pay-per-use fees. 15% fee on top of capital fees to pay directly for the use of that site. Ex. A complex gym membership – 15% goes to replacing equipment and upgrades.

Find ways to reduce the 17 million annual payment from Tbaytel. Allow the Tbaytel board to set this based on their income and business needs.

While not all will agree with my list of closures or what I view to be as core services there is one common denominator. Thunder Bay has some big decisions to make in the coming years. Either it continues to increase taxes, over extend itself and provide a number of different services at lower quality levels or it can focus itself on a smaller number of services offering them at greater levels. Thunder Bay is in the predicament where its industrial tax base is being ripped from beneath it by globalization and MPAC. It cannot afford to continue offering all these services at the same rate it once did. Thunder Bay finds itself now looking and choosing which services it believes it can afford and which ones it can’t. I like this option of picking and choosing cuts rather than the potentially disastrous option where we need to cut and slash without mercy due to budget restraints. Even if Thunder Bay sees a boom from a mining sector growth or massive tax increases it still needs to adequately fund the core. Without doing so we will find ourselves in worse condition tax wise and infrastructure then we currently are when the taps run dry.

References:
http://www.tbnewswatch.com/News/366143/Report_card_gives_city_infrastructure_C_grade

Active Transportation worth the investment

Truthfully, I have always felt that getting people out of their vehicles and into other modes of transportation is a great idea. I have kinda been on the fence when it comes to the bike lanes because as a driver I have felt like they don’t provide adequate protection between myself and the cyclist. The bike lane idea has been implemented better in other areas of the country but after using it; I really like our system.

Could the bike lane system be better? Absolutely, everything can be improved and be refined to make it better for the user. The system we have now works great when everyone plays their part and respects the other. I have personally criticized bikers on social media for their failure to stop and failure to follow the rules of the road. I know we have all criticized drivers for their lack of respect on the road and bad habits. Luckily, today I was able to catch a number of respectful Thunder Bay drivers that allowed me to enjoy my bike ride to and from boulevard lake. The bike lanes may simply be a painted line and drawings in the middle of the road but it give you a sense of security. The previous night I biked home where there were no bike lanes and found myself squeezed between vehicles and the curb. Without the lanes I had a hard time judging where it was acceptable for me to ride safely and for drivers to pass me. This wasn’t an issue with the bike lanes as it was clearly marked for the rookie cyclist I was. I knew heading home that the intersection of Balsam and Van Norman would be a challenge but with a clearly marked bike lane I was able to make it through safely. The process was clearly defined for everyone at the intersection and everyone made it through and on their way.

I believe that the city should continue to invest in these alternative modes of transportation. I’m super excited to see that the city has added multi-use trails to the new redevelopment of golf links road. This should provide the next link in a North-South corridor for bikes. I would like to see the city invest in higher traffic areas a divider that would provide that security blanket for cyclists and look into painting the pathways they are on. The city of Kelowna has their bike lanes painted green in heavily trafficked areas, it is easily visible and clearly marks the lanes. Something like this would add a little cost to the city’s budget for bike lanes and active transportation but would be well worth it. Helping to build the network within our heavily trafficked areas will help to reduce the amount of pollution we create and create a healthier community.

As a rookie I am enjoying the bike lanes and think I will expand my biking horizon into the future. Good Work Thunder Bay!

Time to divest assets

Thunder Bay is a city that has been in decline for years. Youth and vision have been leaving the community in boatloads, money has walked from city coffers. All of this has happened while the city has pretended that it can continue to offer the same level of services without massive increases to taxes. In reality the situation is much different, years of underspending has left the city in a position where its assets are crumbling. Arenas that are 50 years old and getting close to their end of life, sewers well past their breaking point and buildings falling apart. The city needs to desperately look at the things it owns and is involved in. We cannot pretend that we are a city with a booming industrial sector, population growth and money to burn. Below are the items I believe that the city should look at getting rid of and a short reason as to why.

Chippewa Park – The city has a very limited vision for this area. There are so much potential for the area in terms of housing, activities and there isn’t the money. The roads here are terrible, the zoo is a money loser and we have invested considerable amounts into the RV park that doesn’t provide the proper return. The pavilion needs to be turned into a year round facilities and promoted better then the city has the ability to. Truthfully I believe that the city could sell this to Fort William First Nation. I believe they would have more of a vision for the future for this land.

Trowbridge Campground: This campground is a generally well run facility that is attractive to city residents and to travelers. The issue comes when the city cannot provide an adequate service to people who are coming into the park past 8 pm. The city leaves it self open to thousands in losses with people coming in late and being turned away or staying and then running. This would be great to sell to a 3rd party operator and get the maintenance and staffing costs off the books. This is a facility that is close to breaking even and with a 3rd party ownership could be a money maker.

Daycares: This is one of the services that the city provides where I agree at one time it was necessary but isn’t anymore. The Daycare portion of the city loses thousands of dollars daily and will continue to do so for years to come unless something drastic changes. We should not be in this business anymore, it is not a quality of life issue to eliminate this money losing service. I believe that we should continue to own the buildings in which they are housed out of and open these spaces to private business. We cannot afford to keep subsidizing this service, it is not fair to the workers who have random hours and the taxpayers. With the introduction of all day daycare into the province and increased competition. We cannot and should not be competing.

Conservatory: This was a hot button issue for the city. It was a building put together for the 100th birthday of Canada and has a lot of great attributes. This issue has come when the building has aged with limited investment and seen annual loses rise to $600,000 a year. This building will not succeed under the City of Thunder Bay and we cannot afford to invest millions into a new building with limited use. There is a group that is attempting to save the conservatory and make it a more effective overall attraction for Thunder Bay. I think the city should gift this building to that group and have them take it off of the city’s hands. It was a beautiful building but with the repairs necessary and tax issues facing Thunder Bay we can’t keep everything.

Sporting Venues The city has an issue with its sporting venues that is going to require massive amounts of money to fix. The city’s venues were designed too small, too spread out and are coming to the point in their life where they need massive investment or replacement. Grandview arena and Stanley arena are both facilities that are in need of replacement because they don’t meet the need of the users present and future. They cost the city annually $1 million dollars in losses alone a major detractor for the parks division. They city needs to replace these with second sheets of ice at other city facilities and they would continue to lose money but reduce the amount substantially. The city also needs to consider a long term plan for the Canada Games Complex and the Tbaytel Stadium. The Canada Games complex is a important part of a potentially sports complex in this area but it needs a plan. It needs investment to keep it relevant and bring down the annual costs to the city. Tbaytel stadium while operated by a 3rd party is going to need investment to replace the building here soon. We need to decide if we are willing to invest millions into a facility that draws 900-1,300 people a night for 20-30 days every summer. We need to make this facility more then baseball.

The City of Thunder Bay has 2 billion dollars worth of infrastructure under its belt and it needs to lessen the load. That total is almost 7 years worth of operating and annual budgets. We aren’t the same city as when we built many of these pieces of infrastructure. Its time to lessen the load on taxpayers and provide a leaner more effective municipal government. Truthfully, any money saved by reducing these costs from the city’s general costs should be shifted into 1) Infrastructure renewal, 2) Transit and 3) Taxpayers rate savings. These choices are going to be tough and going to be hard but all the important decisions are.

Should we have a plebiscite?

Plebiscite? That’s one of the most hot button issues here in Thunder Bay right now and likely will continue to be into the election. I personally was totally against the plebiscite at first thinking that it wasn’t a necessary part of the process to build this facility. We have elections every 4 years to elect people we feel would be represent out interests for that. Then I thought about how $106 million dollars is a huge chunk of money and that I know I want a say in this decision. I feel that to this point I am an educated person on this topic, I have attended almost every public open house and read the Phase 1 and 2 reports multiple times in details. So it dawned on me as to what this question should ask if it were to be asked and then what type of scenario would I want this question to be asked in. For the readers a plebiscite is a binding agreement made by the citizens of an area to its representatives. If we were to say “do you want to build this arena” and the vote turned out yes then we would be legally obligated to build it. It is the ultimate ‘The citizens have spoken’ moment and could be incredibly damaging to not only our city’s finances but our cities future. So for me to approve of a potential plebiscite I will lay out my criteria for it to be acceptable in my mind.

#1: Phase 3 needs to be completed. We need to have a business plan, we need to have all the numbers and we need to have the designs in order to truly understand what we are getting ourselves into. Only after phase 3 is completed will we know the annual costs to the city, the benefits to the general area, the benefits to the city and if its something that we can afford. My teachers taught me to do my homework before jumping into something and with $106 million dollars on the line this is no different.

#2: The money needs to be there. We need to have a commitment from the province, the federal government, private industry and the ReNew Thunder Bay fund. Without this money the plan isn’t feasible and no matter how much I want the arena it shouldn’t go forward. We need to have this money firm and in our hands before we consider going to the public and potentially asking the question. I also personally believe that we need to have more then the 22 million the city has set aside for the building to cover overruns. The city is notorious for overruns on large projects and having to go back to council for more money would be a huge negative. If we need to wait a year or 2 before construction to make sure we have our money then so be it.

#3: We need to have an anchor tenant and an operator to make sure that this building is full as often as possible. Thunder Bay Live! has proven their interest in the building and has the support of both the Lakehead Thunderwolves and Winnipeg Jets organization but we need this is contract form. We need to make sure that the concerts that have driven past our community for years show up and fill the building. We need to draw in as much economic potential and have the team behind the building to do just that.

With these 3 criteria only then do I believe that we should be going to the community for their opinion on the case. I am still incredibly skeptical on the idea on having a plebiscite over this issue but if we were then this is what I would want. I want the community to have the facts and be education on their decision. I want the financial backing to protect this community from having to take on massive amounts of debt and I want the knowledge to make the building a success. We cannot afford to have this building sit empty most of the year and be a negative draw on the taxbase. We need this to be positive for our community in economic, social and financial terms as much as humanly possible.

So if there was to be a plebiscite in my mind it would have to be after these were all met and I believe the question would have to be “Do you want this project to proceed to construction and then operation phase?”. The question clearly asks if people want to see the building built and operated by the city of Thunder Bay. They accept the positives and negatives of this project and everything else that can come with it. Hopefully, people who are voting will be educated on this topic and understand what they are voting for. I believe if we do vote on this that we make a real push to get the youth to vote on this topic as it will be incredibly important to their futures and their taxes. If this building is going to last us 60 years like the last one then they need to have a proper vote in this.

This is my opinion on the matter. Whats yours?

City of Thunder Bay needs to find more cash

One of the benefits to having a large amount of time on your hands is that you get to investigate. I was curious as to the costs of the new event center that Thunder Bay is planning to build with construction roughly targeted for 2016. This popped into my head as the future of the Fort William Gardens is up for discussion. The idea of tearing it down or reusing it for future uses will be something that consultants and the community work to decide. My person opinion on this is that the building has served it purpose and needs to be torn down. The land can be reused to provide a new source of tax income for the city. Getting into more details is for another blog post. I was looking at the cost of the event center and wondering about how the costs have changed since they were first presented to us. If truly they will represent the total cost of event center when it is completed. So I went to the City of Thunder Bay’s website and found the numbers presented by the consultants and went to work.

The cost of the building (nothing inside it), a parking structure, a walkway and the prep work is expected to cost around $88,742,500 based on 2012 numbers. As I said before this building isn’t expected to be under construction till 2016 to at the earliest. 4 years is a long time in the construction industry and during that 4 years costs have increased. Inflation increases is accepted to be around 3% annually but has been lower with the economic downtown. If we use the 3% inflation number over that 4 year period then the price of event center has increased roughly $10,650,000 over the initial costs estimates. That number only gets us to the date when construction is expected to start; with a 2-3 year construction period these numbers will again jump by 4-6 million dollars. That puts us at roughly $104,716,150 for a shell of a building, a walkway, prep work and a parking structure. The contractors aren’t stupid right? They put in a 10% contingency fund to make sure that if there were any cost overruns that they would be covered. That 10% amounts to about 10 million dollars which makes this overrun more reasonable. It means that the city is basically covered till the date of construction and that how long construction takes will determine the overrun. If the 3% increase was to occur yearly that increase to the overall cost would run around $2.6 million dollars. To outfit the arena with the things it needs it expected to take roughly another 6 million dollars. $2 million will be payment to Thunder Bay Hydro for forcing them to advance their dates on tearing down the substation so this cost may not increase; same with the $800,000 that the city has put aside for art. The $3 million for fixtures, scoreboards and more likely will though and again using a 6 year time period and 3% increase in inflation will see this number increase to $3.5 million dollars. This could potentially bring the number for construction to $99,692,500 after the 10% contingency fund has been spent. ($88,742,500 + $14,650,000 – $10,000,000 + $3,500,000 + $800,000 + $2,000,000 [Based on a 2 year construction period]).

Truly to me this isn’t the only cost that needs to be brought forward when we are considering this final bill to the taxpayers. We will need to do something with the Fort William Gardens and that will cost money. That is a number that should be included in these costs as the decision on what to do with the facility is a direct result of the new event center. The cost of either its demolition or its restoration is something that needs to be clear and concise when it comes to what we are doing. Again, I personally believe that the building needs to be torn down as it doesn’t meet the needs of the community or its users anymore. With the loss of that ice to both the Thunderwolves and the Northstars comes with another issues that will need to be addressed. We will need to replace that sheet of ice with another one on the south side to provide enough ice for the users to use. This again provides the city with another cost to meet the demand of its recreation and sport clients. With some foresight I believe that we could properly introduce some additional costs to this project to have both the federal and province governments pay some of the cost of demolishing this building and providing a renovation to Delaney arena. An guesstimate of an additional 20 million to the overall cost of the multiplex should help to provide enough cash to either pay for the demolition and rebuilding or the retrofit of the Fort William Gardens. If we were to add these costs and use the money we have saved to leverage the cost we would end up paying roughly $6.5 million dollars instead of the full cost of these buildings.

So what would it work out to be if we were to break it down between the 4 partners. Currently, the city expects to pay around 33% with the other levels of government covering the other 66%. Its currently trying to leverage the 35 million dollars set aside in a ReNew Thunder bay fund to get the other 50+ million from the Province of Ontario and Government of Canada. If the City of Thunder Bay wants to truly get an equal billing between the 3 levels of government it will need to increase the expected cost of this endeavor. That $11 million dollar increase in cost means that the city will need to find an additional 3.5 million dollars to leverage the Federal and Provincial government. If it doesn’t increase the costs or find additional private funding to cover the added cost it will be stuck with the 11 million dollar increase on its own. While it likely wont go over well for the next city council to already have these added costs on so early on, to avoid the increase and accept it later shouldn’t be the better of the 2 options. There is also an opportunity here to pay for the demolition/refurbishment of the Fort William Gardens and any addition to other facilities that will become necessary for the city to meet its clients needs.

I believe that this is a great opportunity for the city to improve something that has been lacking in this city for a long time. I give praise to the current and past city councils for developing the different districts (administration, shopping and entertainment) that have created the foundation for future expansion. The development of Prince Arthur’s landing and now this has created a catalyst for the redevelopment of the north core. 500 additional people could be downtown Port Arthur on a nightly basis when the condo’s and hotel are full. This is as a result of the city’s investment into redeveloping its waterfront. On top of that the private sector has taken notice of the development being undertaken. An old bar has been restored to house lofts and is already 50% sold, a new development will build a 6 story 71 unit apartment building in an underused section of town. Other developers have taken over buildings in desperate need of repair and invested in them. All this in the build up to the potential development of the new event center. It will be interesting to see the changes that happen in the city as time goes on. I am in complete support of this project but I want to make sure that the city gets the best deal for taxpayers dollars. We need to have a more accurate dollar figure when we go to the higher levels of government and make sure that we aren’t stuck with the cost overruns to deal with ourselves.