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Chamber wants to meet with council for 'education' session (updated)

Sunday, April 27, 2014   by: Darren Taylor

Mark Barsanti, Sault Ste. Marie Chamber of Commerce president, has sent a letter to chamber members calling for a meeting with the city’s elected leaders, designed to provide “education and information” to them on the importance of working with the chamber for the community’s economic good.

“Our Executive asked staff to work immediately on a plan to invite elected officials to meet with us,” Barsanti wrote in the letter, dated April 25, 2014.

“The board would like to provide an education and information session to our elected representatives that will outline our approach to advocacy, the importance of the Chamber as an advocate and the constructive role we can have in moving our community forward,” Barsanti wrote.

The letter was released late Friday afternoon.

Mayor Debbie Amaroso, in an email reply to SooToday.com Friday evening, said “City Council is open to interaction with all groups.”

“In the event the Chamber of Commerce wishes to meet with us they merely need to make those arrangements.”

Barsanti, on behalf of the chamber, issued a statement April 15 stating “the Sault Ste. Marie Chamber of Commerce is pleased that its voice was heard during the 2014 City budget deliberations,” one day after council approved the 2014 city budget with a zero percent residential property tax increase.

That written statement, however, also called for council to work towards less dependency on provincial government funding and strive for better tax rates for business to encourage private sector investment and job growth in Sault Ste. Marie.

That letter upset elected officials and senior city staff, who have said the April 15 chamber letter appears to take credit for the 2014 budget.

Both elected officials and senior staff have said hard work, good planning and effective number-crunching by city staff, and not the chamber’s input, determined the 2014 budget outcome.

They also say $17 million in annual Ontario Municipal Partnership Fund (OMPF) money is a vital transfer payment from the province to help the city carry out its duties, and that the Sault is already regarded by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) as the second most entrepreneurial city in Ontario.

In response to that, Barsanti’s April 25 letter writes “respectful criticism and input (from the chamber) must be genuinely encouraged and acknowledged.”

“The statements (by elected leaders and city staff after the chamber’s April 15 letter) reflect an acceptance by our municipal leaders that it is politically astute to publicly indicate business views were ignored (in the 2014 budget deliberations),” Barsanti wrote.

In the letter issued Friday, Barsanti repeated his call for better business tax rates in Sault Ste. Marie.

Acknowledging the Canadian Federation of Independent Business recently named the Sault as the second most entrepreneurial city in Ontario, Barsanti wrote in Friday’s letter “the CFIB also named us the second to worst place in Northern Ontario to do business…the main reason is the high rates of business tax in our city.”

Repeating his call for less municipal reliance on $17 million in annual provincial funding, Barsanti wrote “from 2006 to 2013 the total budgeted tax increases in our city amount to roughly $22,000,000 which is a 29 percent increase.”

Despite help from the province for court security, public health, Ontario Works, Ontario Drug Benefit Plan and many other goods and services, Barsanti wrote “our spending at the municipal level continues to grow.”

While Mayor Amaroso has informed SooToday.com elected leaders are open to meeting with the chamber, it is not known when or where such a meeting will take place.

Full text of the letter submitted by Sault Ste. Marie Chamber of Commerce President Mark Barsanti follows.

*************************
Dear Chamber Members and to the Business Community of Sault Ste. Marie

We are writing to you to share some of our thoughts regarding the important role that the Chamber has with respect to advocacy on behalf of the business community.

Many of you have read articles and the posted comments in the local media regarding the relationship between the Chamber of Commerce and our City.

The Chamber views these matters very seriously.

Our Executive asked staff to start work immediately on a plan to invite elected officials to meet with us.

The board would like to provide an education and information session to our elected representatives that will outline our approach to advocacy, the importance of the Chamber as an advocate and the constructive role we can have in moving our community forward.

The immediate concern is the Chamber's advocacy work at the local level.

For too long the business community has been too reluctant to participate in advocacy - as such we bear some responsibility for the historic, present and ongoing challenges in our community.

Over the past several years members of the business community have been discussing the challenges our city is facing in terms of growth, demographics and outside investment.

It is clear that there is a general consensus as to the core governance issues that underpin our challenges.

We are committed to moving the Chamber toward a greater advocacy role in order that we may address those issues.

The debate in the press that occurred in relation to the 2014 municipal budget is only a small representation of the impact of those core issues:

Respectful criticism and input must be genuinely encouraged and acknowledged.

The stated philosophy four years ago was, "Your city, your say."

The Chamber developed a budget position this year.

It included long term strategies to control spending, ways to become more competitive and self-sufficient.

The Chamber decided, correctly, that the paper should be delivered to the Mayor.

The board had no media plan for the paper and no desire to "claim credit".

We had what seemed to be productive discussions during the week before the budget and the weekend before.

After our discussions, we felt, on the face put forward, that we had fair opportunity to be heard and that our position was understood.

We were so satisfied in what we believed was the beginning of a productive relationship, we sent the Mayor a thank you note and we prepared a press release to acknowledge the fact that we felt we were heard.

We acknowledged staff for doing a good job managing the budgets in the past but also indicated more work needs to be done.

The negative reaction expressed in the press is troubling but the statements made in the press are even more problematic in that they clearly stated that the Chamber's views were ignored.

Even though we doubt that to be the case, the statements reflect an acceptance by our municipal leaders that it is politically astute to publically [sic] indicate business's views were ignored.

These types of reactions are not consistent with "Your City, your say".

The elected officials need to be the voice of our municipality.

The Mayor is the CEO of a municipality.

As such, the Mayor, along with Councillors of a municipality are expected to communicate to the citizens on matters of importance to the municipality.

It should not be the administrative staff of the municipality but its elected officials that comment upon work done by staff, positions taken by council and whether or not council used or ignored certain information.

Governments have political branches and administrative branches for good reason.

Our elected officials must be the ones to engage the citizenry in debate and challenge administrative staff to meet the demands of the governed.

The best administrative branches are those whose members are seldom seen and rarely heard since it is the elected officials, and not their staff, that are politically accountable for how a municipality is governed.

If administrative staff are permitted or required to speak for or in the place of the elected, it stifles debate, creative solution making and engagement in the political process.

When was the last time a deputy minister of finance spoke publicly in regard to a federal or provincial budget?

When was the last time a deputy minister of finance spoke publicly to say a major constituent group was ignored or was disrespectful or naive?

Information the community is given by our leaders must be accurate, meaningful and relevant.

Bad news needs to be provided when the news is bad.

The community needs to know where it stands so elected officials can make the case for hard decisions to move us forward.

It is not healthy to have staff telling the community that all is well and then expect the elected officials to make a case for increased efficiencies or service reductions.

For example, staff insist that our taxes are in line or lower than other cities based on taxes levied on the average home.

We are told that an average home here is worth $156,000 and is taxed less than an average home in Sudbury where the value of the average home is higher.

There are consultants who amass this type of data; they also compare cities in other ways.

The more accurate comparison is how much tax does a taxpayer pay for every $100,000 of assessed property value.

The way staff presents it, ignores the fact that people tend to house themselves to the extent their budget will allow.

If a person can only pay for a $156,000 home in either city, they will pay less tax in Sudbury.

The City's approach ignores that perhaps the average home here is valued lower because the tax burden is so high people can't afford to pay more for their home; perhaps the average home is valued lower here because the tax burden on business is so high, the economy is not robust enough to create a more buoyant housing market.

The staff's approach may make us feel like we are doing well but it really serves to avoid the bigger issues.

Recently the city reminded us that the CFIB named us the 2nd most entrepreneurial city in Ontario.

That may be true.

But the CFIB also named us the second to worst place in Northern Ontario do business, ahead of only North Bay.

The main reason is the high rates of business tax in our city.

This type of information management, leads our elected leaders away from setting goals that will help us become more competitive.

It makes it next to impossible to make the hard decisions required to achieve even modest goals of taxation and spending controls.

The elected must seek out the right questions to ask.

They must not allow others to control the message.

A norm has developed that taxes and spending must go up every year.

From 2006 to 2013 the total budgeted tax increases in our city amount to roughly $22,000,000 which is a 29 percent increase. Inflation during the same period was 13.6 percent.

During that period, the province increased funding for, or assumed all funding for, many services for which the City previously paid.

This includes court security, public health, Ontario Works, Ontario Drug Benefit Plan and more.

The bill paid by the province for services delivered to us at the local level is more than $14,000,000.

But our spending at the municipal level continues to grow.

Budget debates focus on the amount of the levy increase.

The City claims that the 2014 budget was a product of hard work over two years but the original budget draft in the fall called for the levy to go up by 4.5 percent before the effects of using the surplus and an increase in assessment value was factored in.

Those things and other accounting shifts brought the budgeted levy increase to 2.89 percent.

On the day the budget was approved, an unexpected savings in social assistance costs was announced and there was a shift of casino revenue.

Both brought the levy increase down to 1.35 percent.

It only hit zero after council rebuffed staff and the Mayor who were in support of a 1.35 percent increase.

Where were the debates and questions that required hard work to save money?

To do things with fewer resources?

To evaluate services or re-evaluate our support to third parties?

The idea that spending must always increase can have and has had dangerous consequences.

The business community needs to help resolve these systemic issues.

We need to work with our elected officials to develop goals for growth, outside investment, and demographic rebalancing.

We need to look to the communities that have results to which we aspire.

We need to tell our community what will be required to reach those goals.

And finally, we need to support our elected officials when they take the steps to move us toward the goals.

Please feel free to contact the Chamber office at (705)949-7152 or the General Manager by emailing shelley@ssmcoc.com if you would like to lend your support or input to our efforts on your behalf.

Sincerely,

Mark S. Barsanti
President 2014-2015
Sault Ste. Marie Chamber of Commerce
on behalf of the Sault Ste. Marie Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors

*************************

Comments
21
Note: Comments that appear on the site are not the opinion of SooToday.com. If you see an abusive post, please click the link beside the post to report it.
Great news 4/26/2014 4:45:10 PM Report

Too bad Mr. Barsanti is president for only one term. He sure is a positive for this city. WAKE UP COUNCIL.
Just Curious 4/26/2014 4:58:54 PM Report

Another good example of our city council and CAO Fratezi having their collective heads stuck up their asses. Don't disagree or you are crap. Any one with half an eye and a butthole knows that this budget is a re-election budget, plain and simple. The tax increase next year is gonna bite everyone...Run for Mayor, Barsanti, you have my vote...
guard1 4/26/2014 5:43:17 PM Report

Who ever votes for this council better understand that they will be voting for significant taxes increases for the next several years to make up for the 0 increase this year.
To date this council and JF were not challenged much but now they have a heavyweight in a guy named Mark Barsanti speaking out. Seems like they are now on the defensive. Keep the pressure on them Mark.
Norm 4/26/2014 6:39:54 PM Report

Elected people can sometimes forget that they can be ousted just as quickly as they were elected. Barsanti seems to make sense and council and staff are upset that someone is standing up to them. Elected people are just that, elected people. Maybe time for them to open their eyes and instead of taking credit, work together.
stakeholder 4/26/2014 7:19:09 PM Report

Barsanti is a wolf in sheep's clothing-watch him
flyhawk25 4/26/2014 7:37:10 PM Report

Why is that?
Mr. Poster 4/26/2014 8:39:47 PM Report

Mark is a busy man running his business. I doubt he would have time for a position on city council. I would vote in a heart beat for him should he decide to run. MARK..please consider running.
Great news 4/26/2014 10:11:34 PM Report

Mayor Deb says they will meet with any group. Will Joe allow it? All he has to tell his 7 or 8 puppets to vote against meeting with Chamber and there will be NO meeting.
ti-guy 4/26/2014 10:53:10 PM Report

@stakeholder
Do you realise just how childish that post is? Either put up or shut up. Maybe you have a 'stake' in having di tutti capo in charge....
soowat 4/27/2014 8:26:47 AM Report

Based upon recent experiences at Canadian Tire,I suggest Mr Barsanti spend more time on his own business and less on telling others how to run theirs
tba 4/27/2014 8:30:59 AM Report

Our city would be better served,when Fratesi retires,resigns,or is fired! He got the position by brow beating weak minded aldermen,while he was still the Mayor.He continues to brow beat council,thinking that HE is the CEO, as well as the CAO.
Joe will never accept that he is "not the best man for the job",as long as our elected council members,including the Mayor,continue to allow Fratesi to speak out on matters that are political.The CAO is in charge of City hall staff,as the Chief Administrative Officer....and to "administer " the policies set by our elected municipal representatives.
John Rowswell did NOT trust Fratesi as CAO, nor should Debbie A.,and council,when ever JOE is quoted in the media,making political statements.
The MEDIA should know the difference when seeking or accepting a comment on city POLICY, that they should be talking to the Mayor,who in turn,talks and listens to council. ...and has the mandate to speak on behalf of city government.It certainly should NOT be Joe Fratesi !
Mr. Poster 4/27/2014 8:53:03 AM Report

Many think Joe WAS/IS the right man for the job. What galls people is HOW he got the job.
guard1 4/27/2014 10:04:19 AM Report

Mark says that the tax increases from 2006 to 2013 was 22 million which is a 29 percent increase. How can the average taxpayer, fixed income people, pensioners keep up with these types of increases. Remember that this increase is over and above the Puc increases, the home heating fuel increases to name a few. Promises, promises and promises of good things is all we here when it comes to elections and once elections are over the elected officials fall back into their old ways. Now there will be additional Puc costs to correct the brown water issues, As if its the consumers fault that we have the brown water. Its time to voice your concerns during this years elections. Its fine to vent on this forum because members of council do read these forums but the true strength and voter power will be recognized during this years election.
caper 4/27/2014 10:16:28 AM Report

Mark has articulated what some of us have been pressuring our city councillors over the years and can use the office of the Chamber to make the message more meaningful and powerful . Its about time that such an institution has gone public with that message as there is too much apathy in the city.

Each and everyone of us must take that message to our ward councilor and demand that spending at city hall needs to be contained. Accountability starts with council which continues to lack leadership and the willingness to really do a job on behalf of the residents of this city.

This council and others before have failed in their fiscal responsibility and is making our city a costly place to live and to do business.
ThinkAgain 4/27/2014 11:47:40 AM Report

Hey now, don't start to interfere with Joe's self created/protected position & lavish salary (I can't justify it) but nobody is going to tell him anything, he is GOD at city hall.
fatafr 4/27/2014 12:51:22 PM Report

I have had the opportunity to be on Council for 8 years, but one thing I have not understood is why there hasn't been more input by the Chamber of Commerce on very important issues. The Boxing Day issue was an example of this. More input from the Chamber would have been valuable to me, during the discussions, and I'm sure many on Council might agree.
I have always been of the opinion that small and medium size businesses are the backbone of any municipality. A City lives and thrives or falters and stagnates based on the success of our businesses. Businesses have a huge vested interest in the way this City is run, makes decisions and we all have a great responsibility to collaborate and engage and work towards the greater good which is a thriving, expanding and better run City that continues to grow and flourish.
We can only benefit from this collaboration. So why would anyone be against this happening ? I certainly don't know why.
I strongly believe that meetings between the Chamber of Commerce and City Council are long overdue and should be had and the sooner the better. We need to make sure that we sit down with the common goals that we should have and that is to share and put forth ideas that can only help make Sault Ste. Marie a better place to live, work, play and, of course, invest.
I will say as I've always been saying; thank you to Mark Barsanti and the Chamber of Commerce for your input and I hope that you will continue to see just merit in continuing to express your concerns.
These are my thoughts on this matter and I will continue to be vocal on this.     
Mr. Poster 4/27/2014 12:57:48 PM Report

As a councillor Mr. Fata why didn't YOU bring about this meeting? It is easy now to say you are interested and you are only saying that in an election year. You guys had a chance to promote this city more and failed. I am hoping some fresh faces will run in this election...we need change.
rcssm69 4/27/2014 3:10:46 PM Report

So many know-it-alls on this site...yet still so many moronic comments!!!
FirstChairLastCall 4/27/2014 4:27:35 PM Report

Fantastic letter. Thank you Mr Barsanti. Eager to see the results of the first info session.

Mayor - very disappointed in your generic response and total lack of any sign of a want or admittance of the need for this type of communication. Sad. Get on board or enjoy the end of your only term as mayor IMO.
Mr. Poster 4/27/2014 4:40:45 PM Report

It may not be her only term...no was has indicated they are running against her for mayor...so far.
guard1 4/27/2014 5:36:39 PM Report

Mr Barsanti is bang on with the statements he makes in this release. And its especially true when he says a norm has developed that taxes and spending has to go up every year. I SAY TO COUNCIL THAT SHOULD BE THE EXCEPTION NOT THE NORM. The mayor and council need to be more forcefull with JF and staff and instruct them to work with the revenues that they collect and no more.
To Mr Fata I commend you for your participation on this forum even thogh I think you also took the oppurtunity to vote for the 0 percent tax increase because its election year. To the mayor and all the other councillors we know you read these forums also I challenge you to participate as well.
Comments
21
Note: Comments that appear on the site are not the opinion of SooToday.com. If you see an abusive post, please click the link beside the post to report it.
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