2022 Sarnia budget keeps tax increase under 2%

City staff join Sarnia council virtually for 2022 budget deliberations. December 7, 2021 Image captured from YouTube.

Sarnia council has approved a $163 million budget with a tax increase below two per cent for 2022.

About $1 million was trimmed from the draft document during just over four hours of deliberations on Tuesday.

The 1.91 per cent increase to the general levy represents an increase of $18.36 per $100,000 of residential assessment, not including county and education taxes.

Sarnia Mayor Mike Bradley told Sarnia News Today that “council was responsible, in what has been a very difficult time for individuals and businesses, to set an increase below two per cent.”

“It’s a budget that’s dramatically below the rate of inflation, which has hit five per cent,” said Bradley. “On the capital side, we’re reinvesting throughout the community and that creates jobs in the community and obviously positions us much better for growth.”

Bradley said the city is not immune to supply chain and construction cost increases.

“I had a couple of projects I’d brought to council, including doing a waterfront study all the way out to Bright’s Grove, but sacrificed it for the good of the community. I think everyone on council gave up something.”

A number of cuts were proposed by councillor Terry Burrell — a chartered professional accountant — to reduce taxes.

The largest, which council supported, was a call to eliminate a $600,000 contribution to reserves from the operating budget.

“It is my understanding that we frequently need tax stabilization in years where there are reassessments,” Burrell said. “Well, a reassessment, they’ve told us, is not going to happen in 2022 or 2023. So, I don’t think we need to put that $600,000 in the budget this year. We already have set up for $50,000 a year and we have $2 million on top of that in reserves already. So, I think not adding to that in 2022 makes sense.”

In the capital budget, council approved funding to develop a disc golf course and volleyball courts in the city.

A fair wage policy was approved for all construction projects under $50,000 in the city. The addition ensures city funds are paying wages that provide a benefit back to the workforce.

Council agreed to move plans for a multi-use recreation facility to the next stage and have staff report back on the project in 2022. No costs were dedicated to the project during deliberations.

A proposal to contribute $500,000 per year to a dedicated pedestrian safety and reserve fund was rejected.

Council also held off on making a funding commitment to the Bright’s Grove Community Hub Project, with the majority agreeing that more information was needed.

Councillor Brian White voted against the budget, telling Sarnia News Today it failed to address some critical needs.

“I wanted to make sure that there were some key things that got voted down today that didn’t get lost in the shuffle,” said White. “I think we are failing to serve a diverse enough element of our community, specifically, the most marginalized folks in our community, by failing to put money away for safer pedestrian crossings.”

White believes reducing the levy increase will also put a more significant burden on the next council.

“I’m also wanting to make sure that people are aware that by tabling the Bright’s Grove Library plans, that we’ve not put money away for it, and we’re further delaying accessible washrooms and accessibility for any programming at that particular library.”

Council approved an $80,000 grant request from Blue Coast Primary Care Recruitment to continue its physician recruitment efforts.

A $1,000 contribution was also approved for the Lambton County log cabin restoration fund.