Toys for Tickets program canceled, donation accepted as a substitute: Metropolis council pocket book

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Sarnia’s Toys for Tickets program won’t be returning this December.

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For two years, the annual 15-day program waived parking fines in exchange for children’s toys or gift cards to the United Way of Sarnia-Lambton for children in need at Christmas.

Since 2020, the program has collected 88 toys and gift cards worth nearly $2,300, city officials said, but running Toys for Tickets has meant surrendering parking ticket revenue of anywhere from $7,000 to $12,000 per year.

At the urging of Coun. Bill Dennis, council voted to donate $5,000 to the United Way instead this year.

“The novelty is great, but the option would be five times better financially for the families and save the cities by thousands,” Dennis said.

Coun. Terry Burrell was the lone vote against.

He’s consistently said such programs should be subject to the same budget grant process as other causes.

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“Again, I don’t think it’s a proper use of city money,” he said about the $5,000 donation.

Insurance costs catch councillor’s attention

It’s too late to try to dodge a 13 per cent insurance increase for 2023, council heard.

That was the answer from city solicitor Olivia Nisbet after Dennis suggested going out to market, as the city did in 2021, to try to get a lower general insurance quote for the city.

The current insurance policy expires Dec. 31 and it must be renewed before that date of 2023 or the city will be without insurance, Nisbet said.

“To go out to bid, there would be a time concern there,” she said.

Staff could check starting next spring for 2024, she said.

Her report noted a 20 per cent increase had been forecast by staff for 2023.

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Council approved the 2023 general insurance renewal of $2.3 million through Marsh Canada Ltd.

Going to market earlier in 2021 and upping the city’s deductible to $100,000 on property and general liability claims saved $250,000 in 2022, when insurance charges were $1.94 million, council heard last December.

Low-speed vehicle by law OK’d

Low-speed vehicles are now permitted on city streets.

Council unanimously approved opting into a provincial program open until 2027 for the slower vehicles that don’t have the same safety requirements.

The bylaw allows a local man planning a taxi service in the city’s downtown and waterfront areas a chance to make a go.

“I just can’t wait to get started,” Stevey Devlin said while appearing Monday to speak to council virtually

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The vehicles travel at a maximum of 40 kilometers per hour and cannot go on roads with speed limits above 50 km/h.

“I’ve used them before myself in different cities and they’re quite cool,” Dennis said.

Sarnia joins Lambton Shores as one of just a handful of communities in Ontario to have opted in so far since the program started in 2017.

Public health expressed safety concerns about the idea, and there are conflicting recommendations, operations and engineering general manager David Jackson said.

“The province has proceeded with the pilot project with the intention that this is an information-gathering process over the 10 years,” he said.

There is risk any time being on the road, and staff expect to see minor uptake, he said.

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“It certainly is a risk for an operator to make that investment (in the event) the province doesn’t proceed with it,” he said.

The pilot is intended to gauge whether existing rules of the road are sufficient for the lighter, slower vehicles to integrate with other traffic, Ministry of Transportation officials have said.

Regular meeting agendas to be distributed 12 days in advance

Meeting agendas for regular council meetings will be released 12 days in advance.

Council approved procedural by law changes at Monday’s meeting after requesting at an earlier meeting the agenda be provided two weeks in advance.

Delegation deadlines remain noon the Wednesday prior to the council meeting.

There’s also a provision giving authority to the clerk, in consultation with the city CAO and mayor, to determine the agenda distribution and timing for special meetings, for “flexibility when dealing with time sensitive subject matter,” a report from clerk Amy Burkhart says.

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More bus service, public consultation green-lit

Proposed changes to the city’s transit system in the wake of a surge in demand received unanimous approval.

This means an increase in the bus service in the city’s north and Bright’s Grove, as well as a possible expansion of on-demand service to other areas of the city where evening bus service is not available.

Coun. Brian White said the increase in service demand for those parts of the city is partly because of a housing crunch that’s forcing college students to find lodging wherever it’s available.

For the on-demand service, plans are to try the piloted areas first, Jackson said.

There’s also concern about a proposal to extend routes to 40 minutes from 30, Coun. Anne Marie Gillis said.

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Staff were seeking council’s approval to conduct a public engagement for the proposal. Transit manager Michelle Carter said recently the increasing demand has resulted in buses often running five minutes behind schedule.

Changing the route length would be another option, Jackson said, before council approved proceeding with public engagement.

There are pros and cons for different options, he noted.

“The reality is we have to do something because the system is struggling,” he said.

Committee spots approved

Two highly sought council spots on a committee looking into a Bright’s Grove library expansion project went to Gillis and Count. George Vandenberg.

White and Burrell had also been in the running but with drew.

Kilner was the fifth council member interested.

Burrell, who nominated Gillis and Vandenberg, said he was sorry to Kilner afterwards, and reasoned he nominated the other two because Kilner, one vote earlier, had been appointed Sarnia’s alternate member for Lambton County council.

“I just figured we would make it even passing out the appointments,” Burrell said.

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