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Budgets rising, Tuk tuks coming to local streets. Here’s what you need to know about Monday’s council meeting

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Cathy Dobson

DRAFT 2023 HAS NEARLY 6.3% INCREASE

City treasurer Jane Qi.

It’s all up for discussion still but, if unchanged, council learned Monday that the Sarnia Police Services budget will bump the proposed hike in city taxes for 2023 to 6.27% from 4.5%.

Both Mayor Mike Bradley and Coun. Terry Burrell said they are concerned about the significant increase that came about when the Sarnia Police Services board voted 3-2 in favour of an unprecedented 11.5% budget increase recommended by Chief Derek Davis.

“We’ll have to make some adjustments to handle that one way or another,” said Burrell when city treasurer Jane Qi delivered the news.

The five-member police services board has two city council reps including the mayor and Coun. Dave Boushy. Both voted against the 11.5% hike but the rest of the board supported Chief Davis’ recommendation.

He said the increase is necessary for the police to respond to community concerns, especially around mental health, addiction and keeping neighbourhoods safe.
Police and fire budgets are the most significant costs to the city’s operational budget, said Qi.

The Sarnia Transit budget is also a big chunk and contains a 13.48% proposed increase thanks to rising insurance costs, the price of gas, and collective agreements for salaries and wages.

The draft budget also includes $44.7 million in capital spending, with money for items like road rehabilitation ($3.5 million), watermain replacements ($3.2 million) and sewer separation ($7.8 million).

The public will have a chance to comment on the 2023 draft budget on Dec. 12 and council will make its final decisions on Jan. 10.

To find out the process to appear before council on Dec. 12, to see the details of the draft capital and operating budgets, visit https://www.sarnia.ca/city-government/budgets-and-financial/2023-budgets/.

CITY MAN HOPES TO OPERATE LOW SPEED DOWNTOWN TUK TUKS

City council unanimously passed a new bylaw that allows slower commercial vehicles on city streets, after the urging of a local entrepreneur who wants to start a tuk tuk business.
Stevey Devlin says the custom-made tuk tuks that he has ordered from China have seatbelts and travel up to 35 km/hour.

“I want to give people a chance to explore the waterfront and marina in a new way without adding to the carbon footprint,” Devlin told council.

He said his travel routes will focus on the Mitton Village, downtown and marina areas in Sarnia. He’s also in talks with Point Edward in order to offer tuk tuk rides under the Bluewater Bridge.

City councillors enthusiastically endorsed the low speed vehicle bylaw.

“I think it’s a great idea,” said Coun. Brian White. “Very cool,” said Coun. Bill Dennis.
“I think this is going to be something great,” said Devlin. “I can’t wait to get started.”
The city’s new low speed bylaw pertains only to city-owned roads where the speed limit is 50 km/hr and lower. It does not impact county roads within the city.

FOUNDATION OFFERS TO SEND COUNCIL TO HOLLAND

Tristan Bassett

A local foundation dedicated to making Sarnia a “more walkable, liveable” city, is offering to pay to send councillors and city staff to a conference in the Netherlands.

The nuSarnia Foundation’s Tristan Bassett said her group is willing to spend $2,500 per person to cover travel expenses so that a Sarnia delegation can attend the City Builders’ Symposium in June.

Council members said they appreciate the offer but want to check with the city’s integrity commissioner before accepting, to find out if they can ethically use a private donation.
“It’s an incredible opportunity,” said Coun. Brian White. “…we really can’t pass up this opportunity to better equip ourselves” and learn about making the city more citizen and environmentally friendly.

Bassett said the nuSarnia Foundation also intends to provide public grants to local citizens can attend the five-day symposium as community leaders and advocates.

ASSISTANCE FOR FLOOD PRONE HOMEOWNERS

City council has approved an increase in the grant available to local residents who want to install backwater valves to avoid future flooding.

A $1,600 grant is now available for the valves that generally cost about $3,400.
The move follows a massive rainstorm last summer that flooded hundreds of homes, particularly in the Coronation Park area.

TOYS FOR TICKETS SCRAPPED

Coun. Bill Dennis

At the urging of Coun. Bill Dennis, city council has cancelled a seasonal program that allowed city residents with parking tickets to pay with an unwrapped toy or gift card rather than cash.

The program has traditionally operated for 15 days and lost $7,000 to $12,000 per year in revenue for the city, said Dennis. At the same time, about $1,000 a year was donated to local charities.

Dennis said he likes the program in principle but struggles with the numbers.

“I think it is an improper use of city monies,” agreed Coun. Terry Burrell.

Council unanimously approved a motion to scrap the Toys For Tickets program and replace it with a city donation of $5,000 a year to the United Way for families in need.

“This way the families in need get five times what they would get under the ticket program and it costs the city $2,000 to $7,000 less per year in lost revenue,” said Dennis.

SARNIA TRANSIT ADJUSTMENTS

Increases in ridership, largely due to more use by Lambton College students, prompted city council to approve several changes to local bus service, effective Jan. 2.

These changes include more service in Bright’s Grove to Route 15 to provide consistent service throughout the day and more weekend buses.

Council also endorsed staff recommendations for a fixed evening route in the north end and a pilot program for rides-on-demand to areas of London Line, Blackwell Sideroad and Confederation Line in the evening.

The changes are relatively minor, according to city engineer David Jackson’s report, and accommodate increasing demand in those areas. Transit route locations and the transit area levy are not impacted.

As a result of increased ridership, numerous buses are now running late, Jackson noted. Council agreed public input will be sought to find solutions to keep the system operating on time. Under discussion is running buses every 40 minutes rather than every 30 minutes so they will be on time.

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