Thunder Bay has one of the highest home ownership in the country. I have been a homeowner myself since 1974. This pride in ownership is reflected in the beautiful homes we see throughout the city and in the number of awards won every year (most recent, "Four Blooms Award"). While there is much to celebrate about home ownership in Thunder Bay, a number of issues that have major implications for you as a homeowner still remain unsolved. They are:
Taxation and Home Values
My goal on re-entering municipal politics in 2006 was to bring back financial accountability at City Hall. Much has been achieved but much remains to be done.
I pledged to bring taxes down to a more reasonable level from a high of 7% increases in 2003-2006 before my last term of Council. Through a respectful and collaborative effort with management and staff of the city, cost controls of budget items, a program of continuous improvement (finding ways of doing things better, working smarter), and economic growth and expansion, taxes were reduced to a much lower 1.8% increase in 2009-2010 (at around the cost of living) but unfortunately since then they have risen again to an average of 3-4% per year.
On top of increase in residential taxes, homeowners in Thunder Bay have been experiencing more substantial user fees increases. While the concept of user pay has merit in those areas where the benefit of usage accrues to a small number of users, in my opinion it is still another form of taxation (let's call a spade a spade).
Recent increases in both user fees (especially water which I fought hard to keep to a reasonable level in 2006-2010 but has gone up over 50% in the last 3 years alone) and residential tax rates are still too high for many homeowners, especially seniors on fixed income, and families that have lost their jobs.
Home Constructions and Sales
The last four years appears to be one of improvement for housing starts (estimated at slightly over 200, about 100 more than in the lows of the last 10 years; however, still too low when compared to a high of 800+ in 1987 and the average of 400 per year in the 80’s). The net result of not enough homes being built is continued pressure on prices. While this may appear like the city is booming, the fact remains that demand is reasonable but supply is tight. We need to create a more balance in our planned development for housing (make more lots available and make it easier to build a home) so that prices remain affordable for young families and seniors.
The above issues of high taxation for residential and multi-residential properties, unaffordable prices of used homes for young families starting out, increasing user fees, high cost of new home construction, are directly linked to the lack of economic opportunities and clear vision for the future of our city and region, especially in relation to planning and development for housing.
I have identified 4 key priorities. They are:
A clear sense of direction for our city especially in the areas of housing development. If we really are preparing for a mining boom, then we are falling short of new home construction to house these people
Job Creation through business retention and expansion of the Small & Medium-Sized companies that create over 80 percent of the jobs
More leadership and financial accountability in the budget process and spending by Council and Administration
The need for a new approach to crime prevention and community safety, because whatever we are doing now does not seem to be working
As Councillor at Large, I will work with Mayor and Council to implement a comprehensive Strategic Plan to
"Awaken Thunder Bay's Giant Potential" (based on the above priorities) that will address the fundamental issues our community is facing.
This plan needs clear, realistic and measurable goals by which a Mayor and Council can be judged on (accountability in government). Maintaining and enhancing the value of your home, keeping residential taxes and user fees stable, are part and parcel of this program.