Sarnia, Where we live — By JD Booth on January 17, 2011 at 9:29 pm
If Sarnia City Council had hoped for some clarity from a pre-budget public input session on Monday evening, it likely was disappointed.
The eight speakers during the 50-minute session at City Hall came in two distinct camps.
One group wanted municipal politicians to tighten their financial belts, while the other group wanted the status quo as it pertained to their organizations of interest.
In its presentation, the Sarnia Lambton Chamber of Commerce told councilors they must dig deeper into the cost of government to keep any budget increases to a minimum of no more than the forecast assessment growth for each of the next four years.
It also called for a more regional approach to services offered and delivered, including the establishment of a Smart Delivery of Public Services taskforce with Lambton County and neighbouring municipalities to deliver local services at the lowest possible cost.
Private citizens Walter Petryschuk and Mac Kechnie both said the current financial approach is not sustainable.
"I implore you to consider the 35-40 per cent of those (Sarnia citizens) who can not afford any sort of increase," said Petryschuk, armed with statistics that indicate salaries for municipal employees in Sarnia have outstripped the national rate of inflation by a ratio of nearly two to one since 1997.
For his part, Kechnie took aim at the Scott Road firehall as well as the Business Park on London Line and lands around the Sarnia-Lambton campus of the University of Western Ontario Research Park.
He accused administration and consultants of putting "a spin" on the need for upgrades to the Scott Road facility which he referred to as a serviceable building and said the aforementioned industrial lands are risky ventures that should be sold immediately.
Meantime, representatives from the Children's Animal Farm and the Strangway Centre Community Centre told council not to considering closing either facility as a way of trimming expenditures.
Margaret Jones, the chairperson of the Strangway's advisory board presented council with a petition carrying 1,400 signatures and said any efforts to silence the Strangway Centre would send a terrible message to the older residents of the city.
"It would say aging adults don't matter and can be thrown aside in order to balance the budget," she said.
With an aging population, the centre should be seen as a community asset and not a liability, reasoned Jones.
The spokesperson for the Seaway Kiwanis Children's Animal Farm was Cindy Scholten. She said the farm, which opened nearly 50 years ago, should remain available to the community.
Scholten also made a request on behalf of the Physician Recruitment Taskforce of Sarnia Lambton and asked council to both consider a request for $95,000; an increase of $20,000 over last year as well as multi-year funding. She said the increase is needed to make up for the loss of grant allocations from the province.
Written submissions included the desire for Colborne Road sewer upgrades, cash to spruce up Locomotive 6069 in Centennial Park and a $20,000 allocation to police budget to tackle speeding in the city.
Other submissions reiterated the need for council to keep increases under control, including water and sewer bills.
The draft budget, presented to council late last year, proposes an increase in spending of a little more than three per cent.
City Council begins deliberations on Tuesday morning at 9 a.m. in council chambers.
The meeting is open to the public.