The final numbers are approved and Sarnia residents have been handed a property tax increase just shy of 3 per cent this year.
For those who live within the transit area and pay for public transit service close to their homes, that increase is slightly higher at 3.3 per cent.
A homeowner within the transit area with a residence assessed at $100,000, will pay $979 on the municipal portion of their property tax bill in 2023. That’s a $31 increase. Property tax notices combine levies from Sarnia, Lambton County and the Ministry of Education.
In order to keep the municipality’s increase just under 3 per cent, council eliminated millions of dollars of transfers to several reserves, according to city treasurer Jane Qi.
However, this year’s budget ensures critical investments into infrastructure and community improvements will go ahead, she added.
2023 BUDGET HIGHLIGHTS:
• A $43.5 million capital budget was approved that provides about $3 million to Sarnia Police Services for equipment, building improvements and 911 communications; $3.5 million for road upgrades; $2 million for shoreline protection; $1 million for flood mitigation and $7.8 million for sewer separation.
• The 11.5% increase requested by police services was approved in full.
• City council approved $90,000 to replace bleachers in Norm Perry Park, some of which were damaged by a vehicle last year. Meanwhile, $100,000 has been earmarked for master plans to upgrade Canatara and Norm Perry Park.
• A new reserve fund was created for pedestrian safety improvements. Coun. Anne Marie Gillis made the motion to put the first $20,000 into it in 2023. Resident Robert Dickieson has been advocating for such a reserve for a couple of years and applauded the move. “This is a start of a long journey to make the city more equitable for all users, especially for people that walk,” Dickieson said.
• Coun. Bill Dennis made a motion to cut the city’s budget to hire consultants for major capital work by half. Dennis said city hall has a talented staff and shouldn’t depend so heavily on outside consultants. The 2023 budget includes $3.7 million for consulting fees. Dennis said it’s time “to stop the gravy train for consultants.” But CAO Chris Carter strongly disagreed that Sarnia’s consulting budget should be cut. Consultants are necessary for specialized capital projects, Carter said. “We’d need to know which projects not to go forward with… we don’t have the resources; we don’t have architects or design engineers,” he said. Dennis’ motion was defeated.
• Council voted unanimously to get the ball rolling on upgrades to the Pat Stapleton Arena. A Legionnaires’ rep asked council in December to get rid of the mould and structural deficiencies in the private washrooms and dressing rooms used by the hockey club. Council approved a staff recommendation to get estimates for the work this year.
• Council initially withdrew $120,000 for new rubber flooring at the Progressive Auto Sales Arena (PASA), and reallocated it for the Pat Stapleton dressing rooms. But at staff’s urging, the $120,000 was returned to the PASA capital work budget, for a total to be spent there of $1.6 million this year. Staff noted that the PASA rubber flooring is a tripping hazard and must be replaced for safety reasons. PASA also gets gender neutral dressing room this year and more roof replacement. Pat Stapleton Arena still gets the $120,000 extra for capital improvements.
• Coun. Terry Burrell was the most vocal council member during budget talks. He suggested changes, deletions and corrections for almost every city department budget. He also objected to hiring a new deputy clerk at a cost of $147,000 for the year. When CAO Carter explained that the city hasn’t had a deputy clerk to fulfill certain “statutory obligations” for several years, Burrell suggested hiring one in the second quarter, saving approximately $70,000 in 2023. That carried.
• The Blue Coast Primary Care physician recruitment group received council’s unanimous approval for an $80,000 grant in each of the next four years. No other group that asked for a city grant received one, except for the Lambton Farm Safety Association, which received approval for $200 this year. Grants are supposed to be strictly for capital ventures, not operating costs, Mayor Mike Bradley pointed out.
• The Toronto developers converting the former SCITS building into student housing were disappointed by council’s 7-2 vote to deny their request to be reimbursed in the form of a grant for the $266,000 they’ve already spent on development fees.
• Water and sewer rates will increase a combined 7.64 per cent to pay for the city’s share of the Lambton Area Water Supply System, as well as more flood mitigation and infrastructure “backlogs.”