Burling­ton coun­cil de­cides how to spend taxes

In­clud­ing Hal­ton re­gion and ed­u­ca­tion levies, the over­all tax bill rises by 2.56 per cent

The Hamilton Spectator - - COMMENT - JOAN LIT­TLE

Last week Burling­ton coun­cil passed its 2017 bud­get. Coun­cil ac­tu­ally in­creased the city por­tion of the bud­get from the staff pro­posal of 4.23 per cent to 4.42 per cent, but these were not friv­o­lous ad­di­tions. In­clud­ing the re­gion and ed­u­ca­tion levies, the over­all tax bill rises by 2.56 per cent, in­stead of 2.48 per cent — $22.32 per $100,000 of as­sess­ment.

First a word about the bud­get for­mat. I defy Joe Q Pub­lic to find any mean­ing­ful de­tail in it. Ex­am­ple. My last col­umn ques­tioned ex­pense ac­counts pro­vided for coun­cil­lors. I asked Fi­nance the amount. They re­ferred me to the City Clerk, who pro­vided the $9,000 an­nual fig­ure. Un­til re­cent years that num­ber would have shown in the bud­get, but the new sys­tem doesn’t “get down into the weeds” ( Jack Den­ni­son’s ep­i­thet for de­tail). It cov­ers costs by to­tal ser­vice cat­e­gories, but isn’t de­tail what coun­cil needs to as­sess spend­ing pri­or­i­ties?

A re­port ap­proved by com­mit­tee this week au­tho­rizes re-es­tab­lish­ing a qual­i­fied cit­i­zens’ com­mit­tee to as­sess coun­cil salaries, ex­penses, and other is­sues. In 2013 it rec­om­mended that the long out­stand­ing Coun­cil Code of Con­duct be im­ple­mented. We’re wait­ing.

Coun­cil­lors pro­posed changes to bud­get items, which had been vet­ted rig­or­ously by de­part­ments and then a man­age­ment group. Marianne Meed Ward pro­moted an idea from Jim Young of the Burling­ton Se­niors’ Ad­vi­sory Com­mit­tee. It re­quested free tran­sit for se­niors from 10: a.m. to 3 p.m. week­days to make bet­ter use of buses that aren’t full. She was un­able to pinpoint costs, other than be­tween $48,000 and $72,000. Tim­ing was poor, though, be­cause an over­all tran­sit re­view is un­der­way. She alone voted for her mo­tion. Coun­cil­lors want that study, not ad hoc so­lu­tions.

One se­niors’ leader I spoke with dis­agreed with Meed Ward’s mo­tion, say­ing that while cost may be an is­sue for some, the ma­jor rid­er­ship is­sue is the in­con­ve­nience of ser­vice. Agreed. And the Burling­ton In­te­grated Trans­porta­tion Ad­vi­sory Com­mit­tee also dis­agreed. Se­niors’ tick­ets are $1.90 per ride when pur­chased in tens.

Meed Ward was sup­ported in adding $200,000 (on­go­ing) to­ward im­ple­men­ta­tion of the play­fields strat­egy. This is a long-term plan to im­prove un­der­main­tained play­ing fields.

Brian Aas­gaard, pres­i­dent of the Friends of Free­man Sta­tion, noted that the sta­tion is be­ing ac­cu­rately re­stored by vol­un­teers who have al­ready spent $556,000 on it — mostly do­nated cash or “in-kind” ser­vices. He asked for $50,000 in­terim fund­ing so they could pro­ceed to their July 1 Sesqui­cen­ten­nial pub­lic open­ing, en­abling them to take ad­van­tage of do­nated ser­vices to be done by then. Aas­gaard ex­plained that grants are avail­able later. Vol­un­teers have done an im­pres­sive job on restora­tion and fundrais­ing. Mayor Rick Goldring moved they be given the grant. Only Jack Den­ni­son dis­agreed.

Den­ni­son sug­gested sev­eral rev­enue items be in­creased, but staff de­fended the amounts bud­geted, say­ing it made lit­tle sense to project higher rev­enues than were care­fully cal­cu­lated, and ex­plained how in each case. He wanted pro­jected rev­enues for sup­ple­men­tary taxes and for in­vest­ment earn­ing each in­creased by an­other $200,000. That lost.

Arthur Ren­dall re­ally caught coun­cil­lors’ at­ten­tion about wash­rooms in wa­ter­front parks. The for­mer Oakville res­i­dent noted that Oakville wa­ter­front parks had them, but that Bur­loak and Spencer Smith had por­ta­ble toi­lets — a dis­grace! Coun­cil­lors agreed. Paul Shar­man moved that the bud­get be in­creased to in­clude tem­po­rary trailer-type por­ta­ble wash­rooms, sim­i­lar to those in City View Park, by sum­mer. They will cost a to­tal of $14,000, plus on­go­ing main­te­nance costs of $80,000.

Coun­cil­lor Rick Craven pro­posed elim­i­nat­ing both edi­tions of the city pub­li­ca­tion “City Talk”, sav­ing $44,000, but re­gret­tably that lost. Staff con­ceded it has very low recog­ni­tion, but some coun­cil­lors were con­cerned that for peo­ple with­out com­put­ers, it is one of the few ways to be up­dated. As Craven said, coun­cil­lors pub­lish on­line news­let­ters, so their con­stituents know what’s go­ing on. “City Talk” is mailed, and postage is high. Staff agreed to re­view its ef­fec­tive­ness.

Through­out the dis­cus­sions ques­tions were raised about im­pacts on the 2018 bud­get. Could the fact that 2018 is mu­nic­i­pal elec­tion year (when typ­i­cally in­creases are lower) be at the root of those queries?

Free­lance colum­nist Joan Lit­tle is a for­mer Burling­ton alder­per­son and Hal­ton coun­cil­lor. Reach her at specjoan@co­geco.ca

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