Former city councillor Bev MacDougall says rampant crime in her central Sarnia neighbourhood can only begin to be addressed if Sarnia Police Services gets the 11.5% budget increase it has requested from the city.
She stood before council Monday describing a litany of problems plaguing “a very troubled part of the city” where calls for police assistance are well over 1,000 a year.
MacDougall has lived on Maria Street for 43 years and said the surrounding neighbourhood is on the cusp of losing the middle class home owners who no longer feel safe there.
“Our part of the city is inordinately stressed by murders, fires, and criminals turned back to the street to reoffend by our court system that needs a rethink,” she said.
As a former city politician, MacDougall acknowledged the Sarnia Police Board (SPS) is asking for an unprecedented increase to allow for the hiring of another officer to deal with mental health situations, as well as a new team to work with high risk and marginalized people. If approved, the 2023 police budget will also pay for a new auxiliary police unit “to get more eyes and ears on the street.”
MacDougall said the police board’s request may exceed the norm, but that council needs to “respond to the times they’re living in.”
“There’s nothing in the 2023 proposed city budget that feels more important to me than to get on top of crime while supporting marginalized and vulnerable citizens,” she said.
MacDougall described a fire last year at a “troubled” house across the street from hers, as well as the murder of a woman in a home on Essex Street.
When a program was cancelled to house people in hotels during the pandemic, MacDougall said she could sit on her front porch and hear people in despair with nowhere to go.
“You have a responsibility to your citizenry to give us back our quality of life,” she told council, later adding that people living on the street are desperate for help.
Police Chief Derek Davis has said at numerous public meetings that it is time for the city to change its approach to policing because of the explosion of fentanyl issues and related street crime. When the SPS board approved the proposed budget in a 3-2 vote, Mayor Mike Bradley and Coun. Dave Boushy did not vote in favour of it. They are city council’s representatives on the SPS board.
On Monday, the mayor was absent but MacDougall addressed Boushy directly.
“I know you said you are scared of (an 11.5% increase),” she said. “It’s something you’ve never seen in your years in politics. I’m here to say we are scared too on the street and we need your help.”
Approximately 8% of the police budget increase cannot be changed because it relates to committed items and provincial standards of policing. However, an additional 2.7% ($753,000) is being requested for outreach programs such as MHEART and IMPACT.
“I’m counting on you, Coun. Boushy, to respond to the challenges of these times,” said MacDougall. “Don’t let the families down, please. There isn’t any amount of money worth further death on our street.”
Coun. George Vandenberg revealed at Monday’s meeting that he supports the 11.5% increase.
“It’s time to give our police force the resources they need,” he said. “I want to see change and therefore I am going to support this budget.”
Council has a moral obligation to support the police budget, said Coun. Adam Kilner. Coun. Brian White agreed, adding that keeping taxes down “artificially” can eventually lead to an unsafe community.
But Coun. Terry Burrell called an 11.5% hike unreasonable.
“Maybe this should be done over three or four years instead of one,” Burrell said. “People are hurting financially.”
MacDougall was one of seven local residents to speak to council Monday about the 2023 budget, which will be debated on Jan. 10.
Her plea for council to approve the SPS board’s budget in full was repeated by Robert Dickieson, who also lives in central Sarnia, Police Chief Davis, and SPS vice chairperson Paul Wiersma. A letter of support was submitted by resident Debbie Martin.
Several others went before council to ask for consideration for their projects and organizations when council strikes the budget. They included:
- Lambton College’s Research & Innovation department with a $50,000 request to hire a co-ordinator to develop civic lab projects;
- Blue coast Primary Care Physician Recruitment asking for $80,000 to continue recruiting family physicians;
- The new owners of former SCITS and Walker Brothers buildings who want $322,000 in redevelopment fees waived;
- Sarnia Legionnaires Jr. Hockey Club asking for approximately $60,000 for upgrades to Pat Stapleton Arena change rooms and washrooms; and
- Lambton Farm Safety asked for $200 to pay for awareness and education.