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Tough choices will test mayor’s solid start

Tom Davies Square is a much happier place these days.
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NorthernLife.ca will be bringing you live coverage of Greater Sudbury city council tonight starting at 6 p.m. File photo
Tom Davies Square is a much happier place these days.

After two terms of turmoil, it’s a refreshing change to cover a mayor and council who are on the same page, and the new spirit of co-operation has already resulted in an impressive list of accomplishments. That’s the kind of government action Sudburians like to see from their municipal leaders.

In just a few months, store hours have been deregulated, the ombudsman is back, the #gs2025 consultations are complete and taxes have been frozen.

Whatever you may think of the true costs of the tax freeze — and the $6-million hole it created is worrisome — it’s exactly what Greater Sudbury Mayor Brian Bigger promised during the October election campaign.

And Bigger has clearly worked hard to get everyone on board with his agenda.

The budget included something for pretty much everyone — money for the Art Gallery of Sudbury, for the youth centre in Rayside, Crime Stoppers, bike lanes, watershed studies, a new Sudbury Transit route for a seniors home in Chelmsford, a commitment to addressing chronic flood problems in the Flour Mill, and on and on.

This particular budget allows him to appeal to both Sudburians who believe taxes are too high, and those who want government doing more things more quickly. These might seem like strange bedfellows, but that’s the demographic that gave him a resounding victory in October.

But the list of challenges ahead is long, and how he deals with them will be the true test of Bigger’s term.

A decision on Maley Drive, for example, is bound to be divisive. With a federal election slated for the fall, and with Wynne already on board, there’s a decent chance Sudbury will get matching funds from both levels of government for a scaled-back version of Maley worth roughly $90 million.

Some loud voices have come out strongly against the project, including some of the people who managed to delay improvements on Second Avenue last year. I’m not sure when it happened, but building roads in Sudbury has become controversial in some quarters.

If the feds come through with the funding, Bigger will have to navigate that minefield of an issue where there are bound to be winners and losers.

And then there’s the cost of dealing with the frozen water pipe crisis the past several weeks.

While no one has offered any estimates yet, the pricetag will likely be in the millions. And with the deep frost now melting and causing all sorts of movement underground, we can expect a lot of potholes and watermain breaks as we move into April.

Those are also costly to deal with, and will likely blow a bigger hole into the budget. And plans put forward to save money — the attrition plan, for example, which has a target of $2 million in savings this year — will mean the loss of roughly 20 jobs.

Carry that forward each year of the term, and soon the job cuts become substantial. Anyone who has worked somewhere where jobs have been cut knows you can survive it, but you can’t do the same things you could before.

And that’s fine, as long as people are ready to expect less from local government, while still paying more in taxes. Because remember, the tax freeze pledge was only for Year 1 of the term, and we still have massive infrastructure problems to address.

The good news is we have some time to get a handle on all of this, and there are some emerging leaders on the new council.

While the toughest tests lie ahead, there’s plenty of reasons to be optimistic this mayor and council can get it done – if Bigger is able to maintain his collaborative approach while making some tough decisions.

Darren MacDonald covers city hall and political affairs for Northern Life and NorthernLife.ca.



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