Lambton taxes up 5.5 per cent in 2024

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Lambton Countuy taxpayers will be paying 5.5 per cent more in county taxes this year.

Politicians from across Lambton discussed the $282.7 million document Wednesday, making no changes which would affect the tax rate.

The most discussion came over the proposal to spend $3 million on affordable housing in 2024 – $1 million more than 2023.

Oil Springs Mayor Ian Veen first suggested councillors reduce that spending to $2.5 million saying the county “had to make some cuts” and that seniors were having a hard time with increasing taxes. “This is a small concession…somewhere along the line we have to be fiscally responsible and get this budget down one per cent.” Petrolia Mayor Brad Loosley agreed. “I have a problem with a 5.5 per cent (tax) increase.”

Sarnia City/County Councillor Bill Dennis drew audible gasps from the audience speaking in favour of reducing the funding. “What troubles me is we are getting generations of people relying on government. If we provide everything they need, what incentive is there for the to get their lives together and get a job?

“I don’t mind helping the working poor… who are in that position through no fault of their own,” he added.

“I’m sick and tired of people playing the system, sleeping on the streets and they have no one to blame but themselves…These units – they’re going to be a massive eyesore in 15 years.”

Dennis added “the middle class is footing the bill, like they always do, and they’re being dragged down.”

But fellow councillors pointed out social housing is a county responsibility and providing housing is less expenses than dealing with the social problems caused by homelessness. Warwick Mayor Todd Case asked Dennis “if we do nothing and we don’t add in the extra (housing) funding, isn’t that going to make the problem worse at the end of the day?”

Dennis replied Sarnia “is a city dying a slow death…we are simply being overrun.” He pointed to letters he received from neighbours of the new homelessness warming centre who were “not happy “furious” with the behaviour of the people using services.

Later in the discussion he referenced a higher crime rate in Sarnia saying people are moving out of the city “because their afraid” and “I’ve had people coming up to me and saying we don’t want vagrants in the city – we’ve never wanted them.” He then said there were “shootings every day” and people are tired of it “they’re slime” he said before he was cut off by Warden Kevin Marriott. He clarified, off mic, that he meant the criminals.

Despite the heated discussion around the subject, councillors were not able to agree with a way to fund the extra homelessness funding without increasing taxes, so the tax rate will remain as the staff suggested it at a 5.5 per cent increase. That’s about $26 more in 2024 for every $100,000 of assessment on a home. An average home in the county will pay just under $500 this year.

The increase in the $289 million budget according to Treasurer Larry Palarchio is driven in part by $4 million more in operating expenses including cost of living wage increases, adding another 12-hour paramedic shift to ease ambulance wait times, less revenue from provincial fines and increasing debt charges because of higher interest rates.

Palarchio estimates about $2.5 million has been taken out of reserves just to keep the tax rate down this year. He told county councillors that this year, $3 million more will be taken out of the reserves than will be put in. And he says, the over all reserves will drop from $80 million in 2023 to $60 million by the end of 2024.