Sarnia council approved a budget last week that raises property taxes by 3.67% but cuts back on direct customer services at City Hall.
The $139.6-million spending package contains a $33 increase on every $100,000 of residential property assessment, money used to maintain parks and arenas, police and fire, and roads and transit.
Rising staff wages and benefits, which consume 57% of the budget, were the biggest factor behind the increase.
The final tax bill will change once Sarnia’s spending is combined with school and county taxes, which tend to lower the overall impact.
At the Dec. 5 budget meeting, council also approved a blended water and sewer rate increase of 3.7%. Spending on Sarnia Police, which is a budget within a budget, will rise 2.85% next year.
Council also approved measures, recommended by administration, that further decrease staff interaction with the public, part of an overall shift from personal to online services.
Phone calls to City Hall will be answered by an automated server instead of a receptionist, with an option to ring through to a live person.
The concierge desk in the lobby will be removed, and City Hall will begin closing at 4:30 p.m. instead of the current 5 p.m. Offices will for the first time shut down the week between Christmas and New Year’s.
Council also approved a $27-million capital budget to be spent on 29 projects.
* Donohue Bridge repairs – $6 million.
* Sewer upgrade project – $4.5 million
* Watermain and sewer replacement – $2.69 million
* Road repairs- $2 million
* Disinfection upgrade at pollution control plant – $1 million
* Police radio communication system – $1.5 million
A number of user fee changes kick in next year. It will cost more to dock a ship at Sarnia Harbour, hire a marriage witness, be rescued from a stuck elevator and have public works shut off the water after-hours.
Building demolition and pool permits are going up, but some charitable groups running big events will get a 25% break on park and facility user fees.