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Provenzano takes aim at police spending in final mayoral address

It was the Sault's biggest political group hug in recent memory, with the mayor wiping away tears at several points
Mayor Provenzano was accompanied last night by his wife Kyleigh and daughters Alice, Ilsa and Chloe

Monday night's city council meeting was quite possibly the closest thing to a 1960s love-in ever seen at the Ronald A. Irwin Civic Centre.

It was the final council meeting for Mayor Provenzano and departing Couns. Paul Christian, Rick Niro and Donna Hilsinger, with many kind words spoken by and to them.

It was the Sault's biggest political power-hug in recent memory, with Provenzano wiping away tears at several points as he bravely attempted to chair the meeting with his three young daughters – Alice, Ilsa and Chloe – at his side.

But he did break the kumbaya mood at one point to inject a strongly worded opinion about the local police budget.

"It's recently been suggested that the city is underfunding its police services," Provenzano said. 

"I understand the reflex to see investment in policing as a solution. I spent over seven years at the police service and I can attest that our officers have very challenging jobs."

"The pressure of the opioid epidemic and our mental health and addiction challenges is clearly and substantially felt in that building by both our uniform and our non-uniformed members."

"However, the fact is that we have been steadily increasing spending at the police service." In 2015. we budgeted and spent $25.5 million."

"In 2021 we budgeted $31.5 million and spent $32.4 million."

"That is a $7 million increase in money spent between 2015 and 2021."

"We increase the budget again for 2022 with another increase scheduled for 2023."

Referring to communities of comparable size to Sault Ste. Marie, Provenzano pointed out that we spend the same on policing per capita as North Bay, and "more on policing per capita than all of Timmins, Sarnia, Belleville and Sudbury."

"We are only outspent by Thunder Bay," the mayor said. 

"I suggest to our council, our next council and our community at large, that in a climate of very limited funds we have to be cautious and thoughtful about increasing funding to address the downstream consequence of critically serious societal challenges at the expense of addressing the root cause of those challenges."

"Put simply, every dollar we spend addressing the symptoms of the problem is one less dollar we have to address the actual cause of the problem."

"To that end, there is very little the municipality can do to build health care infrastructure," Provenzano said.

The opioid epidemic isn't getting any better, he pointed out. 

"In fact it has gotten worse and Northern Ontario clearly has greater need than the remainder of the province. Our community's mental health and addiction challenges are more acute. And homelessness is more prevalent here than it's ever been."

Provenzano said that operational health care infrastructure is outside the city's funding capacity and its legal jurisdiction.

"But what we can do is invest in our social service infrastructure."

Provenzano said the Sault has 10 supportive housing beds and needs at least 80 more than that.

"We have 83 shelter beds in our community, and we need at least 25 more in the near term. We need more funding to expand our street outreach."

Provenzano expressed confidence that Mayor-elect Matthew Shoemaker is up to the task.

"He is an intelligent and capable person who is committed to our community."

"I know that he can serve our community well, and I will always be available to him to support him in his leadership."

"It was a dream job for me," Provenzano said. 

"And while I didn't get everything right all the time. I believe I got most things right most of the time. I can say unequivocally that I did my best. I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to serve our community and for your ongoing support and your ongoing kindness."

Council then approved a resolution thanking the outgoing mayor and councillors for their passion and zeal during a total of 48 years of service.

"Each has been a champion of causes near and dear to them and their constituents over their terms in office," the resolution stated.

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David Helwig

About the Author: David Helwig

David Helwig's journalism career spans seven decades beginning in the 1960s. His work has been recognized with national and international awards.
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