Timmins, ON | December 6, 2016—Council should focus its efforts on reducing costs, enhancing spending transparency, and making the most of those dollars being spent within the upcoming municipal budget, according to the Timmins Chamber of Commerce.
These ideas formed the core of the organization’s annual presentation, made by Chamber President Chris Bender and the Chamber’s Municipal Affairs Committee Chair Jamie Clarke on Nov. 30 as part of its efforts to provide the business community’s feedback as City Council develops the 2017 municipal budget.
In particular, the Chamber hailed council for its commitments to reduce the overall budget by two percent, and commended its push to identify efficiencies that would help to achieve this target. However, Bender pointed out that Chamber members are urging council to also consider making difficult decisions: namely, to review the range of services it offers so as to identify potential items which do not offer sufficient public value.
“It’s important to point out that any decision to enhance existing services will ultimately add to the city’s tax rates at a time where Timmins has already been identified as having the fastest-rising property taxes in Ontario over the last 10 years,” said Bender.
“Moreover, these rates are increasingly complicating businesses’ ability to attract staff to the region, and departmental efficiencies alone cannot address the issue; as such, a careful but judicious look must also be taken at services. As pointed out in the core services review, Timmins already enjoys levels of service far above what is expected for a community of our size, and while we certainly prize the quality of life attributed with them, council must also acknowledge their very real impact on taxes.”
However, this approach also means that council should continue to focus spending on initiatives that improve Timmins’ infrastructure so as to encourage business attraction and expansion, said Bender. This means Chamber members support City efforts to address municipal roads, and to advocate for enhanced Connecting Link funding. The ongoing efforts by the Timmins Economic Development Corporation to attract tenants to the new industrial park are equally welcome, and should be supported, said Bender.
Investment must be done carefully, however, and that means conducting appropriate amounts of due diligence on potential financial decisions, according to the Chamber. To that end, the Chamber urged the City to find ways to reduce its growing reliance on sole-sourced RFPs so that council – and therefore taxpayers – have the ability to know whether it is getting the best bang for its buck.
To that same end, the Chamber is urging council to adopt greater transparency, including on its approach to projects that have already seen considerable spending. This includes two reports completed two years ago as part of the Timmins 2020 community readiness plan: the Housing Report and the Culture, Tourism and Recreation Master Plans, which have yet to be examined by council. Given that they cost a combined $400,000, it would be in the best interest of the city to at least review their recommendations. This would also assist the Chamber as it seeks to determine which items its members would best be able to support, because without a thorough examination by council and a subsequent identification of costs, it continues to be impossible for the business community to understand the financial and departmental impact of supporting individual items.
That same level of clarity is something which should also ideally apply to all financial decisions to be made by council; unfortunately, there has been less consistency on this front of late, complicating the business community’s ability to gauge decisions made on its behalf. Some issues, such as the smoking bylaw, have seen six months of consultation; conversely, the public remained unaware of months of in-camera debate on the Canada 150 celebrations until the same day of their approval.
“Again, we fully recognize and respect that, in the case of the fireworks festival, delicate negotiations prevented council from discussing much of the finer details in advance of the Oct. 3 council decision to commit to the $3.5 million cost,” said Bender. “However, even a vague announcement as to the general pursuit of the project in advance of the decision would have helped to provide more confidence in council spending, and it’s something we hope council keeps in mind going forward.”
Every year, the Chamber’s presentation to council is assembled through an extensive process of consultation, with member input being provided through a wide variety of venues. This includes surveys, roundtable discussions, several Chamber committees, and numerous one-on-one interviews conducted by Chamber staff. The finished presentation represents the majority view as expressed by members throughout that consultation process.
To view the report, visit http://tinyurl.com/TimminsBudget2017
About the Timmins Chamber of Commerce
With 700 members, the Timmins Chamber of Commerce is one of the largest accredited chambers of commerce with distinction in northeastern Ontario. As the “Voice of Business in Timmins” since 1949, our advocacy and policy initiatives focus on ensuring a positive business climate in the City of Timmins.
Manager of Policy, Research and Communications
Timmins Chamber of Commerce