Barrie council notes: City sitting on $4-million surplus, councillors take aim at payday loan sites

Barrie is rolling in dough, at least for now.

The city’s latest economic report shows the municipality is sitting on a $4-million surplus, thanks largely to staffing reductions and a drop in electricity and natural-gas consumption.

However, that amount is expected to “normalize” by the end of the year, with an anticipated increase in operational spending and the possibility of further COVID-19 restrictions coming. The city is also still calculating expenses from the July 15 tornado, chief administrative officer Michael Prowse said.

“We’re not forecasting a large or significant surplus at the end of the year,” he said during a general committee meeting Sept. 13. “These are certainly times full of ups and downs.”

Mayor Jeff Lehman noted the city is doing “a lot better than we were at this time last year, during the first few months of the pandemic.”

Restrictions likely coming for payday loan sites

Councillors are looking to tighten the rules around non-traditional money lenders.

General committee approved a motion Monday that calls on staff to look into regulating payday loan services through the city’s general business licensing bylaw. The intention of the recommendation, which must be ratified by council next week, is to restrict the overall number and concentration of such sites, Coun. Keenan Aylwin said.

“They provide loans with exorbitant interest rates, often that disproportionately harm vulnerable people,” he said. “These establishments don’t add much to a neighbourhood.”

As part of the plan, staff will also review provisions in the zoning bylaw related to businesses that require minimum separation distances — specifically tattoo and piercing parlours, pawn shops and payday sites. That review will be part of the municipality’s upcoming zoning-bylaw update.

Coun. Sergio Morales, who introduced the motion, initially only wanted to stop new payday loan sites from opening along Dunlop Street. , there are actually at least two payday centres on Dunlop right now.

“It’s not about shutting businesses down,” he said. “Now is the time to do this, when they’re not prevalent on Dunlop.”

Tourism Barrie will continue to receive MAT funding

The city’s main tourism marketing agency will be backed by the municipality for the foreseeable future.

Council is also expected to approve a four-year municipal accommodation tax (MAT) agreement with Tourism Barrie during its meeting next week. The tentative deal means the agency will continue to collect MAT on behalf of the city.

Tourism Barrie will get 50 per cent of total revenue collected, plus a $35,000-per-year collection fee.

MAT came into effect in January 2019. It is essentially a four per cent fee charged on stays in hotels, motels and inns. The purpose is to provide stable, predictable, sustainable and performance-based funding for sales and marketing programs.

More than $1.2 million was collected through MAT during the first year, though that dropped to less than $700,000 in 2020 due to the pandemic.