Sarnia’s proposed budget for 2024 includes considerable infrastructure investment, funding for an additional 7.5 full-time equivalent positions, as well as an 8.18% spending increase.
If council doesn’t make any changes, taxpayers will pay $76 more on every $100,000 of residential assessment next year. Water and sewer rates are set to rise about 7%.
The draft reflects a $181.8 million budget that would increase taxes another 9.7% on top of the 8.18% if it weren’t for city staff suggesting several ways to mitigate that huge hike. Most notably, $3.9 million is being used from reserves and another $1.4 million isn’t going into the capital infrastructure reserve.
The 2023 operating budget is expected to have a $900,000 surplus, which is also being used to keep taxes lower in 2024.
The draft budget contains capital investments of $51.5 million, which City Treasurer Jane Qi and David Stockdale, General Manager of Corporate Services, say reflects the cost of replacing aging infrastructure and funding new development requirements.
Bigger proposed capital expenditures include:
• About $5.2 million on city facilities and recreation spaces including arena improvements, playground equipment replacement, and park improvements
• $3.75 million in road resurfacing
• $2.5 million in shoreline protection
• $1 million in active transportation infrastructure
• $2.7 million in transit fleet replacement
• $2.5 million in zero-emission transit fleet upgrades
• About $1.2 million for flood mitigation
• About $8.7 million in combined sewer separation to protect the water system against extreme weather events and
• About $2.6 million in watermain replacement, in addition to $4.6 million in ICIP-funded Vidal Street watermain replacement.
Despite proposing to spend $51.5 million for capital projects, city staff report that a staggering $52,666,667 in capital requests are unfunded in the draft budget. For instance, there’s no money budgeted for waterfront masterplan projects, for a multi-use recreational facility, or the Bright’s Grove library upgrade.
Citizens who want to encourage council to reconsider unfunded projects include four speakers who will be at city council’s meeting on Monday.
They include Brian Clarke advocating for a green energy recreation/wellness centre; Mark Moran advocating for the Bright’s Grove library expansion and community hub; Robert Dickieson proposing traffic calming on Vidal and Brock streets; and Sarah Jackson asking for a Neighbourhood Connects grant for Mitton Village.
The city has taken an aggressive stance on paying off debt since it hit a high of $95.5 million in 2003. By the end of this year, Sarnia’s debt is projected to be down to $1.9 million. The city’s debt capacity is $246.7 million, prompting some politicians to say it’s time to take on debt in order to fund the enormous list of unfunded capital projects.
However, others point out that money saved by not having to pay interest on a debt is money the city has to spend on other priorities.
Monday’s council meeting where grant requests and budget input will be heard begins at 1 p.m.
City council is scheduled for a budget debate on Dec. 5.