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City council votes to reduce number of wards and councillors

New ward boundaries will be drawn up prior to the 2018 municipal election
20160208 City Council Chambers KA
City council chambers seen in this file photo. Kenneth Armstrong/SooToday

Sault Ste. Marie’s city council has decided to reduce its own numbers, soon going from the current 12 councillors across six wards to just 10 councillors in five wards.

The decision to redraw the city’s wards and reduce the amount of sitting councillors will take place in time for the 2018 municipal election.

A committee was struck last year to determine what the composition of councillors serving the city would be most appropriate.

Ward 3 councillor Matthew Shoemaker, who penned the original resolution to look into the composition of council, advocated for a reduction to eight councillors in four wards during the committee review — but said he compromised to accept the newly-adopted solution.

Shoemaker said the current complement of 12 councillors plus a mayor is oversized for the representation of the city’s 73,368 residents calculated in last year’s census data.

“I think it is a size that was established in a city of 1967, when the city was expected to grow beyond 80,000,” said Shoemaker.

Sarnia, a comparatively-sized city of 71,594, maintains a complement of eight city councillors while 12 councillors represent the 161,531 residents of Sudbury.

Mayor Christian Provenzano said the changes were not made in an effort to fix something that wasn’t broken or as a purely cost-saving venture.

“It is very clear and evident that we have more councillors per capita than the vast majority of communities we compare to,” noted Provenzano.

It was hypocritical, said Provenzano, for councillors to constantly be asking city departments to review their sizes without council also doing the same.

“Are you necessarily going to get a better decision with 12 people over 10? I don’t know if you will,” said Provenzano.

Ward 5 councillor Marchy Bruni suggested the decision to change the complement of council should not be decided within the Civic Centre, but instead placed on the 2018 election ballot.

“I say, let’s have a referendum. Let the people decide or leave it as is. Change is not required because the system is not broken,” said Bruni.

Seven voted in favour of accepting the recommended changes to the composition of council, while six voted against.

Votes in favour of the resolution:

Mayor Christian Provenzano
Susan Myers
Rick Niro
Matthew Shoemaker
Sandra Hollingsworth
Paul Christian
Frank Fata

Votes against:

Steve Butland
Marchy Bruni
Ross Romano
Judy Hupponen
Joe Krmpotich
Lou Turco

City clerk Malcolm White said the new ward boundaries will be drawn up in-house and the change will result in a $50,000 to $60,000 in yearly saving — mostly from the elimination of two councillor honourariums at a cost of $22,700 each, along with two $216 vehicle allowances.

The composition of council was last looked at in 2002, at which time it was determined to not alter the complement of 12 councillors in six wards which that has existed for over 50 years.

During the consultation phase of the review, three public open houses were held and an online survey elicited 698 responses.

A majority of the public supported maintaining the current six wards, but reducing council to just one councillor per ward.