Free transit, cutting library hours debated by Sudbury city council

Sudbury city councillors went over the 2015 budget for another six hours on Wednesday, before calling it a night on account of exhaustion. But, they tackled a range of different topics before that.
Ward 11 Sudbury city councillor Lynne Reynolds confers with Ward 10 colleague Fern Cormier. (Yvon Theriault/Radio-Canada)

Sudbury city councillors went over the 2015 budget for another six hours on Wednesday, before calling it a night on account of exhaustion.

They tackled a range of different topics before that.

Several city councillors were surprised to find a project they haven't yet approved already listed in the budget.

It's the re-greening of the old General Hospital parking lot, which is part of Bell Park.

The cost is estimated at $950,000, which staff proposes spreading out over the next two years. About $350,000 of that would be spent this summer on ripping up the pavement and planting grass.

City councillor Joscelyne Landry-Altmann had some harsh words for staff.

"We keep hearing, 'we don't have any money, we don't have any money, we don't have any money.' And yet, projects such as this one, which perhaps [could] be put on hold for one year, are included in the budget."

City councillors didn't decide whether to spend the money this year, but did decide to make a decision in two weeks from now on this project and other spending options.

Another idea tossed around last night was giving free rides on public transit.

This came up after staff pointed out that provincial funding is based on how many people ride city buses.

Again, no decisions were made. But several city councillors, including Fern Cormier, said that it seems the time is right to bring Sudbury transit to the next level.

"The mere fact that this was the first time in any of the campaigns I was involved with that the issue even came up in a serious way, demonstrates to me that we might be able to look at this."

Aiming for zero

Council also got a chance to debate some of the ways staff suggest they can freeze taxes this year.

"You asked us to come in at zero and we came in below zero," said community development general manager Catherine Matheson as she presented the budget for her department.

But she and other managers also tabled a range of further cuts to help city council reach it's tax freeze. This included everything from cutting $250,000 worth of child care subsidies to saving $28,000 by not running city buses out to Coniston on weekends.

Another suggested cut was closing the libraries in Chelmsford and Lively on Sundays, to save $12,600.

But several councillors spoke out against that idea, including Ward 5 councillor Robert Kirwan, who thought it wasn't right to target specific parts of Greater Sudbury.

"I just don't feel good about it," he said. "I really don't like it when we zero in on a couple of places like Lively and Chelmsford and we remove a service that the rest of the city gets."

Sudbury city budget by the numbers

$31,500 is the cost of buying flower baskets to hang from light poles in downtown Sudbury and Capreol, and keep them watered through the summer.

$184,000 is the bill for planting and watering flowers in city parks every year.

$157,345 is the amount of overdue fees Greater Sudbury public libraries raked in last year at its 13 branches.

$25,000 is the estimated value of the items stolen every year from libraries.

1,700 Sudburians between the ages of 55 and 65 buy monthly transit passes and would no longer get a senior discount if council goes through with staff's suggestion.


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