THUNDER BAY — The Thunder Bay district can expect to see significant growth in supportive housing options and a moderate increase to municipal spending, after the District of Thunder Bay Social Services Administration Board tentatively set its 2024 budget.
The board, made up of municipal representatives from across the district, met on Wednesday to review a draft budget set by agency staff.
The budget is set to increase by eight per cent next year, hitting roughly $120 million.
The board indicated satisfaction with the spending plan Wednesday, suggesting no major changes. It will officially ratify the budget in December.
The bulk of the budget increase comes thanks to a big boost to the district’s homelessness funding announced by the province earlier this year.
The first year of that increased funding, allocated in 2023, will help build at least four new supportive housing projects.
That will bring dozens of new housing units that include social supports on line, confirmed CAO Bill Bradica.
He said agreements for those projects are being finalized and will be announced in the near future.
The second year of increased homelessness funding is expected to replicate that progress, with another $9 million dedicated to new builds.
The increased funding has also given a significant boost to homelessness outreach funding, supporting services like warming centres and street outreach teams.
The services board plans to increase its levies on district municipalities by 3.7 per cent, lining up with projected inflation for 2024.
That would add over $400,000 to the City of Thunder Bay budget next year, and cuts against a request city manager Norm Gale had made of the services board.
In August, Gale asked outside agencies that receive city funding, including the services board, to submit proposed zero per cent increases — mirroring direction given to internal city departments.
Bradica has bristled at that request, saying it oversteps the authority of the city, which has no control over the services board — though it does appoint six of the agency’s 14 board members.
None of those Thunder Bay representatives spoke up to question the levy increase or suggest it be lowered at Wednesday’s meeting. Mayor Ken Boshcoff was not present.
For his part, Bradica called the city’s request “impossible” to meet.
“There’s no way we could keep it to zero,” he said. “I would have to reduce staff complement by a significant amount in order to achieve what Mr. Gale was directing the board to do.”
“We know that municipalities are struggling, however we also have to deliver services we’re required to [provide].”
He pointed to factors like a 30 per cent increase in insurance premiums and rising property taxes, with the City of Thunder Bay targeting a six per cent tax hike in 2024, costing the services board several hundred thousand dollars.
Bradica also noted the board's proposed budget keeps staffing levels flat and eliminated some temporary positions that were set to carry into 2024, while cutting its travel budget.
The 2024 increase builds on a hike of 12 per cent to the budget this year, and a 5.5 per cent increase to the municipal levies, which drove up Thunder Bay’s contribution by around $660,000.
The agency serves the entire District of Thunder Bay, including outlying communities like Marathon and Greenstone.
The proposed budget will see some small service expansions, adding another 30 spots in the Portable Housing Benefit program, for example.
The budget also covers a “beautification, security, and environmental design study” on board housing.
The child care budget will fall just slightly, after a large increase related to the federal $10-a-day initiative last year.
The funding helped reduce child care fees for local parents by a staggering 56 per cent from 2021, on average. The agency says access to limited child care spaces remains a problem, however.
The proposed budget includes $5 million in capital spending, primarily on housing properties.
Planned capital projects include replacing windows at Manion Court, installing ramps at legion houses, replacing the roof at Spence Court, elevator updates at Clark Towers, and the addition of murals and other artwork in common spaces at various buildings.
Questioned by board members on the upkeep of housing properties, 90 per cent of which are at least 40 years old, staff said a building condition assessment that will be presented early next year will clearly define maintenance needs.
Board member and Thunder Bay Coun. Dominic Pasqualino suggested that could unearth millions in new costs the services board will need to bear. Bradica agreed the results could force the agency to further hike municipal levies.
“It will likely be difficult to continue to maintain all of that without additional funding from other orders of government,” he said. “Otherwise, a very significant increase in the levy would need to happen in the future.”