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City council upset about Lambton County’s spending

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Troy Shantz

Sarnia backed off on a proposal this week to withhold $10 million in tax levy to Lambton County, but the move did little to quell simmering city-county tensions.

Sarnia, which provides 48% of Lambton’s budget, doesn’t believe the county is doing enough to curtail spending during the COVID-19 crisis.

“I don’t think the city-county relationship has been this dismal in all the time that I’ve been there,” Mayor Mike Bradley told city council Monday.

“I won’t go into detail now, but that’s been one of the issues that we’ve struggled with throughout the pandemic and dealing with public health.”

Coun. Dave Boushy had sought to withhold $10 million of the city’s $38.5-million contribution to Lambton.

“We’re in a difficult time affecting the citizens of Sarnia. People are counting pennies and asking for help,” he said.

“We are all partners with the county and we’re all in this together.”

The funding arrangement that sees Sarnia provide a large portion of Lambton’s budget in exchange for public health, library, childcare and other upper-tier services has produced friction in both partners for 30 years.

But Sarnia can’t just say it’s not paying up because it’s unhappy, some councillors said.

“If this were to pass … we’re going to go to court because we don’t have the right to do this,” said Coun. Terry Burrell.

“I think this is a very dangerous road to go down.”

“I understand the sentiments of the motion and sympathize with it,” added Coun. Mike Stark. “But the reality is this motion is illegal.”

Most councillors agreed, however, that the current city-county relationship should be reexamined.

“Times have changed,” said Coun. Bill Dennis. “We need to ensure that the city is getting the best representation at the county level.”

In addition to the mayor, councillors Margaret Bird, Brian White, Stark and Boushy serve on both city and county councils.

Dennis called Sarnia’s past representation at the county “weak,” and said he was disappointed an attempt to reopen Lambton’s budget last month to find additional savings wasn’t backed by all city representatives.

“Sarnia and Point Edward are doing the heavy lifting,” he said.

 

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