Burlington council decides how to spend taxes
Including Halton region and education levies, the overall tax bill rises by 2.56 per cent
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 firstname.lastname@example.org