City council notebook: from pot to deficits
BACK TO THE LAWSS BOARD
Coun. Andy Bruziewicz will ask the board members at the Lambton Area Water Supply System (LAWSS) to take another look at how it counts its assets later this month.
Sarnia council endorsed a staff plan for Bruziewicz, who chairs the six-municipality LAWSS board to conduct a cost/benefit analysis on its assets, amend the master plan if applicable, and look into optimizing the system before adding a pair of water towers in Plympton Wyoming and Brigden to the system.
Bruziewicz has opposed the move, characterizing it as member municipalities uploading costs to LAWSS ratepayers.
The agency supplies water at a cost of about $10 million per year and adding the towers and associated lines is expected to add $50,000 to that bill.
Sarnia pays 60 per cent of the cost and makes use of 22 per cent of the system.
“I haven’t seen on the face of it any need for these assets, and that’s what concerns me,” said Coun. Bev MacDougall, one of several to back Bruziewicz and commend him for his doggedness.
“It is not fair to unload your assets that you can no longer maintain to somebody else, unless there’s a need for them in the overall system,” she said.
The second look is expected to determine whether that need exists.
Bruziewicz expressed doubt the LAWSS board, on which he has been the only member to vote against adding the water towers, will go for the proposal.
“Maybe a miracle will happen,” he said. “It will show good faith on our part.”
It may also prevent a trip to the Ontario Municipal Board, he said, noting he doesn’t’ want to go that route.
St. Clair Township Mayor Steve Arnold has defended the inclusion of the water towers as an attempt at greater equity, pointing out the per-person LAWSS cost in St. Clair Township – 30 per cent of the cost split between 14,000 people – is greater than Sarnia’s.
The LAWSS board next meets Sept. 28.
NO APPETITE TO FIGHT MARIJUANA PLAN
Council didn’t bite on Coun. Cindy Scholten’s plea it enlist the local provincial and federal government reps to fight an Ontario plan that limits legal marijuana sales to standalone liquor control board (LCBO)-run stores.
Scholten had called for opposition to the recently unveiled plan because, she said, it doesn’t allow for local growth from potential retail sales.
She found three supporters, including Sarnia Mayor Mike Bradley, but the motion was ultimately defeated.
“When it comes to delivery with this type of product, much like alcohol I am a firm believer in public-sector ownership,” said Coun. Brian White, who voted against the motion.
He suggested the city should be looking for more revenue sharing and funding for costs from the province.
“Those are only going to come if the province has revenue tools,” he said.
Coun. Mike Kelch backed the proposal but called it futile.
“The province is in so much debt that if they see a dime on the floor they’ll bend over to pick it up,” he said.
HABITAT PARTNERSHIP INKED
As the city focuses on boosting affordable housing options, Habitat for Humanity Sarnia/ Lambton says it wants to help.
“Hopefully you will see the synergies and opportunities that present themselves when you include Habitat for Humanity as part of the tools in your toolbox to address social housing,” said Sarah Reaume, executive director of the local branch that builds affordable housing in the community.
She went before council asking the city consider Habitat whenever it’s dealing with surplus properties, tax sales, or other properties that could be useful fits for new projects.
“Land is our biggest challenge,” she said, noting the organization typically seeks out infill lots to develop, but could do a lot more with more space.
Council agreed to direct staff to work closely with the organization to identify property that could be use d to build affordable housing.
That kind of work has already happened informally, said Marg Misek-Evans, city manager.
But passing the resolution formalizes it, Reaume said.
“So we become part of the landscape for the discussion.”
Coun. Brian White suggested Reaume also seek a spot on a new committee in development to look at repurposing vacant city properties.
“It may not all be driven by properties that are fitting for your purposes … ( but) I think it’d be great to have somebody with your perspective on that committee,” he said.
Reaume said Habitat has contributed nearly $500,000 to the local tax base by taking families out of social housing and making them homeowners.
By December, it’ll have built 33 new homes and renovated or resold another 10, helping 50 local families.
Sale prices of land to Habitat will be considered on a property by property basis, said City Solicitor Scott McEachran.
Lots have also been donated in the past, said Sarnia Mayor Mike Bradley.
A pair of properties – at Edgewater Court near Mills, and between 1628 and 1632 Murphy Rd. – were also declared surplus.
LOOKING INTO HELPING BIZ EXPAND
Bradley’s motion to look into adopting an incentive program giving small and medium sized businesses tax breaks on expansions and new builds got the go-ahead.
The proposal comes amid success for a similar program in Windsor.
City staff are expected to bring a report back for council’s consideration.
NEW FIRE EQUIPMENT COMING
The contract for a new $648,000 fire rescue apparatus has been awarded to Dependable Trucks.
The cost is included in the 10-year capital forecast plan and the apparatus, known as a “rescue,” replaces a two-person vehicle from 2003 that’s based out of the East Street Fire Station.
The old one is worth about $6,000, said Fire Chief John Kingyens.
“It’s going to dump deals.”
JBL Construction has been hired to install a new watermain and services on Jamieson Lane, a privately owned lane, and across neighbouring private property.
The low bid for the estimated $400,000 job came in at $360,000.
MORE MONEY FOR BUS BUYING
Council approved another $240,000 to buy eight buses, as the costs have increased from original estimates.
The total price tag is now $3.7 million.
YEAR END DEFICIT FORECAST
After two quarters, the city is projecting a $400,000 deficit for year end.
“Hopefully we can get that knocked down between now and the end of the year,” said Coun. Mike Kelch. “Otherwise we start the budget process in December $400,000 in the hole.”
The city’s total budget is $135.5 million.