Average homeowner to pay about $18 more a year in Lambton taxes

Lambton County Councilors pour over the $180 million budget.

Lambton County Councilors pour over the $180 million budget.

Homeowners in Lambton County will have to shell out about $18 more for county taxes in 2013.

Council approved its $181 million budget today which included a tax increase of about 2.1 percent. That works out to about $9 more for every $100,000 of assessment. In Lambton, the average home is assessed at about $200,000.

County staff did most of the heavy lifting to keep taxes low, cutting $5 million in proposed spending before the budget even made it to county council.

In fact, county councilors didn’t make one spending cut, instead adding money to the budget for projects.

Councilors approved $42,000 in spending to buy equipment to allow for live streaming of council meetings. Another $50,000 will be spent on phragmites control in the county in 2013. And $116,000 will be spent over two years to increase the salaries of 24 of 80 senior managers at the county to bring their pay in line with similar positions in other areas.

Councilors decided not to give St. Joseph’s Hospice $100,000 over 5 years for programing. The county has a policy which allows councilors only to contribute to capital programs not ongoing programing.

County Council put on hold a request by Lambton Elderly Outreach for $65,000 for a new van. LEO – which has been facing a surge in ridership – is working with other groups which provide transportation services in Sarnia-Lambton; county councilors wanted to wait until June to see if they could come up with savings before looking at the request.

There was a move to reduce the budget. St. Clair Mayor Steve Arnold wanted to reduce reserves by $200,000. That would have brought the tax increase down to about 1.8 percent.

But Sarnia Mayor Mike Bradley argued against the move. “In the report from Standard’s and Poors, the only criticism is our reserves against a $180 million budget are extremely low,” he says. “If we had an extraordinary event, I’m not so sure we’re prepared to deal with it.”

Bradley says a small tax break would only give “momentary satisfaction” when council should be trying to get on strong financial footing so it can stop borrowing money for projects.

Warden Todd Case says is pleased with the outcome. “Council did its due diligence, they went through every department …they did their homework.”

But not everyone is convinced. Petrolia Mayor John McCharles says spending is up $5 million from last year and some departments, including corporate services, have substantial increases.

“In corporate services, the IT department has a 19 percent increase ….with corporate services having a 13.5 percent increase; cultural services has an increase of six percent,” he rhymed off. “We’re asking for a lot of money from the taxpayers…I don’t know that we worked that hard in finding the savings…It is like ‘last year we spent this and this year we’re spending more.’”