‘Fixing Sarnia’ is going to take more than money

As we look ahead to the fall's municipal election, we need to think about process and what we really want from our city

(Travis Poland/Lambton Shield)

This is a topic that keeps coming to mind, especially in the wake of a somewhat fractured relationship (or relationships) that appear to be part of the political landscape in the City of Sarnia.

I remember a post-election period some four years ago being a time of “hope”—not the “big hope” that would turn things around because I don’t believe there were too many “burning” issues that needed to be fixed. But when things turned sour, things began going from bad to worse.

It remains an awkward impasse of sorts and there are those who wonder how things will turn out.

Of course, we had—and still have—Mike Bradley, the long-serving and popular chair of Council in his role as Mayor.

Arguably, Bradley may be at the heart of some if not all the friction that I see taking place, although I admit I’m not necessarily always “tuned in” to the many ripples (or perhaps it’s tsunamis?) that threaten to wash over city hall.

One example is the Mayor’s fondness for reminding his audience (wherever and whenever he’s asked to speak) that the path toward eliminating Sarnia’s debt has been roadblocked and that it was part of a platform that he ran on in the last election.

As the 2018 Sarnia city budget went through the approval process, Bradley voted against the budget, clearly making a point that, if he runs again (let’s count on it) he will be able to continue to ride the “debt free train” into the election.

I do have some thoughts about how to fix Sarnia, but I’m not particularly hopeful that what I’d like to see is going to play out in a favourable way.

For starters, I do like the idea of investing in infrastructure through some sort of “bond” (there are people more knowledgeable about municipal financing than I am) that would be used to deal with what has been said is over $200 million in fixes that are needed.

While it certainly would be nice to be debt free, I don’t agree with Bradley’s premise that to be debt free would produce the benefits—tangible or otherwise—that he suggests.

The Mayor argues that the very idea of having a municipality free of debt will somehow distinguish Sarnia, making it a more attractive place to invest.

I would argue that with the excellent credit rating the City now enjoys, managing the seemingly overwhelming need for investment in roads, sewers and other “high ticket” items with borrowed money is something that just makes sense.

What I do know is that waiting until something breaks—roads, underground pipes, etc., etc.—ALWAYS costs more than a thoughtful, well-planned (emphasis on foresight) infrastructure renewal effort.

But I don’t have all the answers. Heck, I may not have even MOST of the answers.

I would, however, like to start a dialogue around those ideas. Let’s start chatting about this (and please leave out the negative, blame game rhetoric).

We’re in this together and life WILL go on. We need to fix Sarnia, to do what’s required to renew this community we choose to call home.

And I believe we can do so with a sense of grace, hope, and courtesy that will make us stronger.

I genuinely welcome your comments. Feel free to send them my way by commenting or directly to [email protected].

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