A renewed Mayor, new Council and a new administration with an unacceptable $145.2 million budget. That’s what Sarnia Mayor Mike Bradley sees coming in 2019.
And he told First Monday the first job of the new Council is to “rethink” the proposed budget drafted by the outgoing administration. “In my mind, another $4 million increase over last year is unacceptable and will be a good test for the new Council,” says Bradley, noting the previous administration jacked up municipal spending by $21 million in four years.
“This has to stop and I’m confident the new Council won’t just rubber stamp what the administration presents,” a reference to the outgoing Councillors, most of whom were blown out in last October’s election.
“We had an opportunity to be debt free by now,” says Bradley referring to the $15.2 million debt coming into this year’s budget. Some of the debt is linked to the $5.3 million given to GFive Inc. for the demolition of Sarnia General Hospital.
There is also debt connected to the Progressive Sports and Entertainment Complex. Bradley estimates it at $4 to $5 million and suggests ticket sales could be used. The Sarnia Sting offered to help says Bradley noting, “we have to get our relationship with the hockey team back on track”.
In addition to debt the Complex needs a new roof.
Deputy Mayor David Boushy agrees saying, “another $4 million isn’t what taxpayers voted for”. He wants Finance Director Lisa Armstrong, who has resigned and is leaving February 22, to go back to the drawing board before Council meets to debate the budget January 15.
“We have an opportunity to put the brakes on spending,” says Boushy who refuses to accept anything more than a two per cent increase. That means Council will have to chop $1.1 million from Armstrong’s proposal.
According to Armstrong the main budget drivers are $1 million in garbage and recycling contracts, $700,000.00 in wage and benefit packages for the City’s 646 employees and $836,000.00 for reserves.
While those are the negatives, Armstrong is optimistic the City will receive about $1.4 million in financial contributions from Bluewater Power and a Provincial decision to hold the minimum wage at $14.00 will save the City $50,000.00 in part-time and student wages.
Armstrong projects a 550,000.00-budget surplus going into 2019, however, most of it is actually an accrual owed to GFive Inc. caused by delays in demolition of Sarnia General Hospital.
As currently presented by the outgoing administration, Sarnia taxpayers would pay $74.1 million of the $145.2 million budget.
Bradley wants the new Council to show leadership, which he suggests will mean making tough decisions. He wants to reinstitute an attrition management program that reduces staffing through retirements, job sharing and elimination of positions, especially at the management level.
Outgoing Chief Administrative Officer Margaret Misek-Evans accepted a buyout last month. Three other administrators, including Armstrong have resigned.
Bradley views that as an opportunity for a new CAO to rebuild the administration at City Hall. He wants Council to be involved in the interview process noting the CAO is “Council’s only employee and it is important there is a good relationship”.
Bradley opposed the hiring of Misek-Evans adding, “It is important the new Council gets this right”. He says his style has changed and all he wants are good things for the City.