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Sarnia has a $140 million budget and my taxes are going up $575

Chris Cooke's picture
Tue, 11/28/2017 - 15:53 -- Chris Cooke

In Petrolia Manny Baron has left the building. Mayor John McCharles refuses to break open an Integrity Commissioner’s report on suspected conflict of interest that ultimately led to Baron’s exit.

Seems the Chief Administrative Officer was using a numbered company to buy up properties and then lease them back to his employer. In the world of municipal government that’s having your cake and eating it too, or eating out of the public trough while administering it.

Baron will likely show up elsewhere to the detriment of taxpayers elsewhere.

Why the Integrity Commissioner’s report is under lock and key one can only speculate. Does the Mayor who goes by the civic email address “johnny remax” have a conflict?

McCharles claims that because the report involved personnel it shouldn’t be disclosed. That is a lousy explanation and does a disservice to taxpayers who paid for the Integrity Commissioner, and ultimately paid for the report.

If Baron is an upstanding civil servant who didn’t do anything wrong why did he leave his well paying job as Chief Administrative Officer? If the Mayor, who proclaims honesty has nothing to hide, why is he hiding the Integrity Commissioner’s report?

Oh, the drama of it all.

First there is Sarnia with its Integrity Commissioner, harassment charges and $387,000.00 in known expenditures. That is the price paid because Chief Administrative Officer Margaret Misek - Evans didn’t like the Mayor questioning her competency. Then there is that pesky little bit with Dianne Gould – Brown, the City Clerk accusing the Mayor of harassing her at a public meeting last February.

We never did find out what that cost because Integrity Commissioner Robert Swayze believes it is none of my business. I brought that matter up with Misek – Evans and Finance Director Lisa Armstrong as they were unveiling the City’s proposed $140 million budget in early November.

Misek – Evans wouldn’t look me in the eye as I pointed out that my property taxes are $17,000.00, are going up $575.00 in 2018 and that while I pay taxes in Sarnia, the Integrity Commissioner does not.

Therefore, I have a right to know how much it cost me to have Swayze at $280.00 an hour investigate the City Clerk’s complaint. Misek – Evans looked down and said nothing.

Armstrong nodded to confirm my taxes would be going up $575.00 next year but offered nothing except vague generalities when it came to the Integrity Commissioner’s costs. Asked about details she had nothing except $305,000.00 for outside legal counsel and $82,000.00 for Swayze.

However Councillor Matt Mitro did provide some insight into security at the fortress known as Sarnia City Hall. “Everyone talks about the $75,000.00 for the wall,” he noted but “in reality the wall cost $15,000.00 and the rest was for cameras and security”.

Mitro would know since his stepson in law, Mark Dillon is head of IT and is on the Sunshine List of municipal employees with six figure pay cheques.

I should point out here that the former head of IT Mark Giberson ended up as head of IT in Owen Sound after reportedly telling Misek – Evans Sarnia can do better but can’t afford to.

Mitro’s stepson in law showed up from Stratford as Giberson’s replacement and the empire building began.

Which brings me to this little fact. Fifty – seven per cent of the municipal budget, nearly $80 million is allocated to payroll.

There is a projected deficit of $261,000.00 on a proposed expenditure of $140 million. And everyone gets a raise.

More than 50% of this year’s budget increase is for staff raises.

And City Hall remains oblivious to the fact that Sarnia’s assessment base remains stagnant. Little or no growth yet the City’s budget is up nearly $8 million in two years and the largest percentage of that increase is allotted to pay cheques for people of questionable ability and value.

Here is an example.

For years Sarnia has had one lawyer. Under the Misek – Evans regime it now has two. Scott McEachran is believed to make at least $150,000.00 plus benefits and now there is a second lawyer “to co – ordinate insurance”. There is also a legal assistant.

A three person legal department and McEachran is a department head that dabbles as an Acting Chief Administrative Officer when Misek – Evans is unavailable.

By the way I asked Jim Crawford, Corporate Manager of Human Resources who told me McEachran’s pay would not be released until next March 31 when the City is obligated by the Province to reveal corporate compensation.

McEachran could have provided transparency by telling Crawford to answer my question but he chose to leave taxpayers guessing until next March.

In the real world none of this makes sense but this is Sarnia City Hall.

According to the Finance Director there are 422 full time employees “a no net increase” from 2016. However, there are just over 23 part – time and what the City categorizes as contract employees.

The “glassdoor.ca” provides an interesting insight from a ”student hire” last year.  The student was a contract employee who listed one of the positives as “you don’t have to work very hard” adding there is “a culture of laziness”.

The student also listed the cons as “if you are a hard working employee, it won’t be appreciated. It shows how slowly everyone else is working. Too many bosses with nothing to do. The City loves to hire people from out of town as they don’t believe home grown people are worthy”.

The student ends with some advice to management. “Hire a company to track jobs and see how little is actually accomplished”.

I have some advice too.

As a guy watching his municipal taxes balloon the City of Sarnia needs to do more with less. Last year the City had 237 employees making more than $100,000.00. Most were police officers and fire fighters but 22 work in administration with an additional nine listed as “City staff”.

Speculation is those numbers have sky rocketed this year.

Based on a current two per cent cost of living increase we know Misek – Evans is making $185,000.000, a $30,000 increase in just two years. Finance Director Lisa Armstrong is at $141,750 and City Clerk Dianne Gould – Brown who felt so harassed by the Mayor at a public meeting last February that she called in the Integrity Commissioner at $280.00 an hour is being paid $112,815.00.

Which brings me to this question.

Why does Sarnia need four in IT and is supposedly getting bigger?

I ask because I noted that when Armstrong went to present her 2018 Draft Budget Highlights her screen went blank as David Boushy tried to use a Keurig to make a coffee.

In my world that doesn’t happen.

I have two contract employees in IT who oversee a huge server, 60 computers and advanced technology that controls five million digital images. And the good news is I can work on my computer while having a coffee.

Apparently it doesn’t work that way for the expensive IT department at City Hall.

Maybe it would work better if we had the guy in Owen Sound back?

 

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