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Mayor says crime, bad condition of roads must be addressed

Pins hope for a revived city on mass COVID-19 vaccination
20200508-Sault Mayor Christian Provenzano-DT
Sault Mayor Christian Provenzano. Darren Taylor/SooToday
Many topics were discussed at a Sault Ste. Marie Chamber of Commerce virtual meeting between its members and Sault Mayor Christian Provenzano Thursday, ranging from the local film industry to the environment, but the issue of drug use, theft and vandalism in the downtown core arose as a major source of concern.

“There’s probably nothing I have talked to the police chief (Hugh Stevenson) more about than this,” Provenzano said.

“These are pressing issues. I see them myself. I hear about them from business owners and operators on Queen Street and it’s top of mind. A day doesn’t go by where these discussions aren’t had.”

While stating those with addictions are not criminals, elected leaders and chiefs of police in many cities have suggested much of the problem is tied to drug use, people with addictions resorting to crime to feed those addictions.

“Since the pandemic began, we’ve gone backwards in our support services for people who have addiction challenges and need withdrawal support. We’ve lost our detox and that’s not been replaced to the degree it needs to be. Police officers will tell you they’ll pick people up (drug users and people with mental health issues) and there’s nowhere to bring them…frankly the support system simply isn’t there,” Provenzano said. 

“The chief has increased patrols, he has increased foot traffic, we’re working with the Downtown Association and we’re doing our best to try and find some solutions to these challenges,” the mayor said, acknowledging the efforts of the District of Sault Ste. Marie Social Services Administration Board (DSSMSSAB) to provide resources and support for people in the downtown core, pointing to its efforts to find a new location for the Neighbourhood Resource Centre (NRC).”

The quality of the city’s roads was also brought up at Thursday’s meeting.

“Our capital spend on roads is bigger than our capital spend on anything else but the reality is we have not increased our roads budget for years…(the City’s engineering department) need more money and deserve more resources to improve our roads. There was a movement afoot this council year to increase the roads budget for 2021 but COVID derailed that,” Provenzano said.

“(Due to taxpayers financially struggling through COVID-caused job loss or layoffs) people had been struggling, and we recognized we didn’t want to add to the tax burden at that time, the councillors that were considering it decided they would have to assess it for the 2022 budget.”

“It’s a need I will support...the reality is that we have a lot of old roads really getting beaten up by the freeze and thaw cycle we’re seeing now,” Provenzano said.

“I recognize we have to do more.”

With economies at the local, provincial, national and international levels wrecked by COVID-19, Provenzano is hoping a vaccinated Sault Ste. Marie will soon be able to head back to work with confidence and roads repaired.

“I expect that if things trend the way they are, if the mass vaccination goes well, if things get back to normal and we’re engaged in life like a year and a bit ago, that (road work) might very well be a discussion you see (in a future budget).”

Provenzano was also asked if the proposed relocation of the existing bus terminal at the corner of Queen and Dennis Streets to the Sault Transit bus barn and administration building at Queen and Huron would cut down on foot traffic and commerce in the downtown core and run counter to downtown revitalization efforts.

The city, Provenzano said, has been undertaking a city transit overhaul with new buses and plans for a northern transfer point.

“The reality is it’s a very old terminal...staff is undertaking, with the consent and direction of council, an environmental assessment (EA). They determined that if we do not leave the transit station where it is, at Dennis and Queen, that the best place for it would be to amalgamate it with our bus barn. It’s in close proximity to the current spot.”

“If that isn’t approved by council, in the final analysis when the EA comes back, the bus terminal stays where it is. That’s still an option that might occur,” Provenzano said, stating he does not wish to see a decrease in downtown traffic. 

However, the mayor stated it is important that a new, accessible “nice to look at, nice to use” terminal would have to be erected at Dennis and Queen.

Tourism, including the fate of the Agawa Canyon Tour Train, was discussed.

Provenzano stated the City is communicating with CN as it sells its assets, hoping any new operator will be interested in running the tour train and not solely concerned with moving freight.