If you have business at Sarnia City Hall or the Sarnia Transit office it will have to be done by 4:30 p.m. starting on January 22.
The city is reducing its hours at both offices by 30 minutes in an attempt to cut costs, according to Lisa Armstrong, Sarnia’s director of finance, who spoke to the Lambton Shield last week.
Armstrong said shutting the doors earlier alone may not save much money, but by packaging the change with others including cutting a vacant position from the finance department, reassigning the front desk attendant, closing city hall between Christmas and New Years, and installing an automated switchboard to answer telephone calls, the city will save about $84,000 a year.
The changes were approved by Sarnia Council at a December 5th budget meeting where council voted on the 2018 operating budget. At that meeting, Council voted in favour of the operating budget and Mayor Mike Bradley was the sole dissenter voting nay.
The budget also includes a tax raise of 3.67 percent or $33 per $100,000 of assessment on the municipal part of property tax bills.
Bradley told the Lambton Shield in a telephone interview last week that he opposed the budget in part because of the reduced hours at city hall and the switchboard telephone system he called “voicemail hell.”
“People pay taxes for service and what’s happened at city hall in the last four years is more taxes, less service,” said Bradley.
Councillor Anne Marie Gillis, however, did not agree with the Mayor’s characterization of the changes. She said the changes are a way to enhance service at city hall because more staff will be able to help during busier parts of the day.
“It’s an attempt to provide more service at a different time,” said Gillis.
Gillis said the new telephone system will solve problems with the current system while allowing callers the option of live answers and the front desk attendant will be moved about 15-feet and continue to offer customer service.
Studies done by the city, according to Armstrong, found that daily traffic was slowest at city hall between 4:30 p.m. and 5 p.m. and busiest between 11:30 a.m. and 1 p.m.
As part of the changes, city hall will be closed between Christmas and New Years, something Bradley said does not send a positive message about city hall.
“To shut down for a whole week, I think, send a very bad message,” said Bradley, citing the need for services such as marriage licenses.
The city found that the number of visits between Christmas and New Years was quite small, according to Armstrong.
Armstrong said the city has seen many people move to automated payments limiting the need to visit city hall and the city is working to offer planning department services online.
“There just aren’t as many people coming in to make their tax payments,” said Armstrong.
Gillis said she has heard from many people wanting to access more city forms and services online.
“We’re trying to coincide the hours with how people work now,” Gillis said.
“All of these changes are being monitored,” said Gillis, adding that council is committed to enhancing services.