What it costs to run Burlington, and other issues
Other cities should take note of excellent reports on assets and projected growth costs
Burlington council deserves top marks for the innovative steps it’s taking to find out the true costs of running the city. Committees last week tackled two huge issues. One is keeping its assets (buildings, roads, parks, storm systems, vehicle fleets and IT services) up-to-date. The other is finding out the real cost of its projected growth to 2031. (The new Official Plan covers planning to 2031).
The first study, done in-house by the city’s second-to-none finance department, is its Asset Management study, initiated in 2013. The report is superb. All assets have been categorized, their condition assessed, and upgrading or replacement costs identified, with timelines. What an undertaking!
An April report listed the categories, with their replacement value — $2,943,242,709. Almost $3 billion! Last week’s report zeroed in on how to pay for the work when it needs doing. On May 15, council will approve repurposing the amount currently being levied to fund the city share of the Jo Brant hospital expansion, to infrastructure renewal. As the hospital levy reduces, it will be redirected to infrastructure, starting in 2019.
Few, if any other municipalities have costed asset renewal. An Asset Management Plan should be mandatory for all municipalities, because every one will face these high costs.
The other study, the Fiscal Impact Study, was done by a consultant, with input from city planners and the Burlington Economic Development Corporation. It identifies costs and revenues for the growth (residential, industrial and commercial) projected to 2031. It appears credible, and based on good data. It breaks the city into four zones, with the type of development, cost, and revenue per capita or employee for each.
With the projected growth, taxes should rise an average of 0.9 per cent annually — some years more, some less. Without the increased assessment it would rise 1.3 per cent. Detail in the report is excellent, but obviously there is some guess work about just what will be built, and when. Both excellent reports are available on the city website.
Regular readers know Burlington council has failed to adopt a Code of Conduct for itself, although one exists for staff. Council has discussed the issue ad nauseam, but kept punting it back to staff. Only Mayor Goldring, Marianne Meed Ward and John Taylor supported one the last go-around. Fortunately, the province has more guts. Proposed legislation will impose a code on councils that don’t have one.
Committee held a public hearing on Carriage Gate’s proposed 27-storey condo, with ground floor retail, and office space on the second floor, on Brant Street, opposite our eightstorey City Hall.
The public hearing process has been vastly improved. There used to be staff recommendations in reports at this point, raising the frequent question, “Why bother commenting if staff’s mind is already made up”? Now it’s done right. A hearing seeks input. A later report contains a recommendation.
Most speakers opposed this development, mainly on height, traffic and parking. Downtown businesses don’t have to provide on-site parking, but pay an extra tax levy for the city to provide it. If condo projects don’t provide enough, why should businesses subsidize them? That’s a bone of contention with businesses.
Downtown condos require 1.25 underground spaces per unit — the lowest in the city, with no designated visitor parking, which has become an issue. Worse, our transportation department seems to think cars are evaporating, and often allows less. That, and not requiring designated visitor parking are dead wrong, in my view.
The lines from the developer are, “People won’t buy if that’s an issue,” and, “People often decide to sell their second car because they don’t need it living downtown.” About two-thirds of the 183 units proposed have two or three bedrooms. Only one parking space per unit is proposed, and the 2016 census shows higher growth than forecast, and more people per unit.
Anticipating public pushback on height (the tallest proposed in the city) the developer’s line was that he could either build a short squat building, or a tall attractive tower. Seven storeys are permitted. What ever became of building to city standards?
Freelance columnist Joan Little is a former Burlington alderperson and Halton councillor. Reach her at email@example.com