A proposed $4 million Sarnia budget increase is going over badly with the leading vote getter in last month’s municipal election. David Boushy says the $145.2 million budget is unacceptable and the administration needs to go back to the drawing boards.
“We’ve had $20 million in budget increases over the last four years and now another $4 million isn’t what taxpayers voted for” says Boushy.
According to finance director Lisa Armstrong the main drivers are a $1 million increase in garbage and recycling contracts, a $700,000.00 increase in wages and benefits for the City’s 646 employees and $836,000.00 to be put into reserves.
While the proposed budget is full of negatives Armstrong says there are some positives. She’s budgeted nearly $1.4 million in financial contribution from Bluewater Power and expects a Provincial decision to hold the minimum wage at $14.00 will save the City $50,000.00 in part – time and student wages.
While the City debt will increase to $15.4 million from $12 million last year Armstrong projects a budget surplus of about $100,000.00.
Sarnia taxpayers will directly pay $74.1 million of the proposed $145.1 million budget, an increase of about $2.19 million. And Armstrong says that is happening because assessment growth in the City is stalled. Twenty years ago, industrial assessment represented 17 per cent of the budget. Today it is down to seven per cent and according to Armstrong is a significant problem that puts pressure on residential taxpayers. “They are picking up the biggest chunk of the budget” says Armstrong.
Mayor Mike Bradley described the draft as unacceptable. “What we have here is an opportunity for the new Council to show leadership that change has arrived at Sarnia City Hall.
For years Bradley said the City had an attrition management program that reduced staffing through retirements, job sharing and eliminating positions upon retirement. But he says during the past four years the opposite has happened.
Not only is he unhappy with the budget he is unhappy with the timing. In a letter to both the outgoing and incoming Councils Bradley wants several meetings postponed.
The Mayor is suggesting the budget input meeting for Council scheduled for November 19 take place December 17 and budget deliberations that were to be held December 11 be delayed until January 15.
The new Council is scheduled to be sworn in December 3 and Bradley says there isn’t enough time to deliberate the budget by December 11.
Boushy supports the Mayor’s proposal and suspects it will be approved by the outgoing Council.
However, he suggests under rules of order the Mayor doesn’t “really need the old Council’s approval to change budget dates”.