Anger erupted at Sarnia City Hall after the administration restricted public comment on the City’s proposed $140 million budget.
There was shouting from the audience after Margaret Misek – Evans and Clerk Dianne Gould – Brown refused to allow members of the public who hadn’t registered to speak.
Margaret Bird, who was in attendance with Ken Swirsky demanded to know why public comment was being restricted. Misek – Evans and Gould – Brown told them that the meeting had been advertised, the legislation had been changed and only those who had registered to be on the agenda could speak.
Bird responded, “It is a crock … they saw us all sitting there and didn’t want us to speak.” She added, “Whoever heard of a budget being deliberated without input from taxpayers”.
David Boushy, who chaired the meeting in Mayor Mike Bradley’s absence, said he received a note from Misek – Evans telling him that Bird and Swirsky weren’t on the list and hadn’t submitted their names on time. Bradley, who is recuperating from another skin cancer operation told First Monday if he had been in the chair he would have opened up the meeting to everyone.
“It is at the discretion of Council not the administration,” Bradley says. “I would simply have asked Council to allow other speakers and continued on”.
The City’s newspaper ad, which appeared in The Observer, changed this year. It no longer allows members of the audience to speak without notifying the Clerk in advance.
Gould – Brown told First Monday it was a staff decision based on the City’s Procedural Bylaw, Delegations – Section 10 for registering of any person(s) that wish to address Council as a delegate.
The advertisement was placed in the Civic Corner of The Observer October 28 and on the News Centre section of the City’s web site.
Bird says she intends to file a complaint with the Provincial Ombudsman.
Boushy says he wasn’t aware of the procedural change and will make a motion before the City budget meeting to have Bird and Swirsky speak.
Bradley says citizens shouldn’t be made the enemy. “They pay the taxes that support the administration and it only make sense that their opinions are heard”.
As for the budget, Bradley says the public should have plenty to say. “It has gone from $120 million when Misek – Evans arrived in 2013 to $140 million today. We now have more taxes, more staff and more debt”.
Boushy says he will vote against the proposed budget. “It is five per cent and I won’t accept that. When Misek – Evans arrived I summited a motion calling for an increase no larger than two per cent.”
Most of the budget, about $80 million is allocated to payroll. And while the 2017 list of municipal employees on the Sunshine List hasn’t been made public, Bradley expects the numbers will be “shocking”.
Finance Director Lisa Armstrong says the list of employees making more than $100,000.00 will be reported to the public next March. As for the proposed budget she said she “would like it to be lower” but that her Department had “reviewed all costs and what is left is service related”. Armstrong suggested to reduce the budget would require a reduction in municipal services.
One sore spot for Armstrong is capital spending. She projects the City requires $250 million to keep up with infrastructure improvements. The allotment for next year is pegged at $25.5 million, about $13 million less than this year.
The other issue is debt.
Currently at about $12 million it will balloon to $18 million as the City pays its portion of costs to demolish the abandoned Sarnia General Hospital.