City council sets $154.9M budget with 2.9 per cent increase

Sarnia councillors listen to a presentation by Finance Director Suzanna Dieleman. September 2019. Photo by Melanie Irwin

Sarnia City Council set a $154.9-million budget that raises taxes about 2.9 per cent in 2020 during a three-hour meeting on Tuesday morning.

The general levy increase adds $25 per $100,000 of residential assessment to the municipal portion of the property tax bill.

Most of the increase, about two per cent, is attributed to council’s approval of a dedicated asset management plan for infrastructure maintenance.

Mayor Mike Bradley said unprecedented spending of about $45 million is included in the capital budget.

“That’s going into shoreline, roads, streets and many other improvements throughout the community and that is really important,” said Bradley. “That’s the number one message we receive from the public, is they want their community to continue to shine, they want it reinvested in and that’s what that spending will do.”

Over $2 million is included for the replacement of steel groynes, retaining walls and beach access points along the Lake Huron shoreline. And while the budget is focused on completing a section of shore from Helen to Kenwick Streets in Bright’s Grove, Mayor Bradley said high water erosion is also impacting areas along the St. Clair River, like Ferry Dock Hill. The city has budgeted $300,000 for demolition of the law firm building there.

“We’ve been dealing with this issue for about six months, cooperating with the law firm. The building, because of high water levels, is no longer usable and they’ve made plans to move to another location.”

A $500,000 annual levy on petrochemical companies was also approved to help fund assets that support the city’s heavy industry.

“If it’s geared specifically to things industry creates as a need in the community, like fire equipment,┬ádrones, or other equipment, just like St. Clair [Township] has done, that to me is fair,” Bradley said. “It should not apply to businesses that are in that area, whether it be the Tim Horton’s or the car rental place.”

Council deleted a $74,000 recommendation to hire a Centennial Park landscape architect.

“I don’t have the stomach, your worship, to spend one more penny on Centennial Park,” Councillor Dave Boushy said to Bradley. “I have every confidence in our administration to take care of what’s left, the damage that was done before from last term.”

Nearly $400,000 will be spent on improvements at city hall, including roof replacement, installation of a second boiler to heat the building and the complete modernization of the elevator.

Over $200,000 is budgeted to replace a cooling tower and two air handler units at Sarnia’s downtown library.

Council approved a police services budget that calls for a 5.5 per cent increase in spending that includes the phase-in of four new officers.

Just over $72,000 for the physician recruitment task force was maintained for 2020.

Council approved a $28,600 pilot project for free menstrual products in public-facing buildings and $90,000 will be spent to control gypsy moths.

Just over $100,000 was directed to the election reserve to fully fund a potential hybrid electronic/paper voting system, which has a significantly higher cost than electronic only. $65,000 was set aside in 2019 and it’s recommended another $100,000 be set aside in 2021.