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Sarnia backtracks on special tax charged to industry

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Troy Shantz

Sarnia council has reversed course on a 10-year special tax it was charging local industry to help pay for municipal services.

And it went a step further on Oct. 23, agreeing to give back the $500,000 already collected.

Councillors voted 6-3 to quash the industrial levy after hearing from the Sarnia Construction Association. Members said it was applied inconsistently on the 117 businesses impacted and without proper consultation.

The city had earmarked the tax revenue to help pay for ongoing maintenance of the Donohue Bridge, which links Sarnia with the Chemical Valley.

“The approach is a divisive one in terms of asking one area to pay, for example, its fair share of all the bridges in the city, plus a special levy on top of that just for this one bridge,” said Matt Gordon, a director of Kel-Gor Limited.

“It’s not keeping with building a cohesive community, where everyone benefits from the services provided by the city, to be able to enjoy a great place to live and to work.”

Council approved the levy last year after staff identified various shared services paid for by all taxpayers and useful to industry, including the bridge, emergency warning sirens, special equipment and training for city firefighters, and a mobile command bus used in emergencies.

A $1-million levy annually for 10 years was initially considered. That was reduced to $500,000 and applied specifically to the bridge.

Coun. Brian White, who had supported the levy, changed his mind after hearing about insufficient consultation.

Coun. Mike Stark, who acknowledged discussion with industry might have been lacking, didn’t want the tax scrapped altogether.

“It’s important that we recognize this was essentially — albeit for a different asset — the same tax that has been imposed in St. Clair Township,” said Stark, referencing a $3.5-million levy the township charges industry for emergency equipment.

“I was against this tax from day one,” said Coun. Bill Dennis, who called it a “job killer” and brought forward the motion.

The Donohue Bridge is scheduled for replacement in 2033 at a cost of $15 million. Used by 7,000 vehicles a day, it has undergone eight major reconstructions since 1982. The last one in 2018 cost Sarnia another $6 million.

“There are infrastructure costs that we face and somehow they have to be paid for,” said Coun. Terry Burrell, who voted to keep the levy.

“I believe the former treasurer’s intent (was) that certain industrial-type costs should be borne by the industrial sector.”

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