What it costs to run Burling­ton, and other is­sues

Other cities should take note of ex­cel­lent re­ports on as­sets and pro­jected growth costs

The Hamilton Spectator - - COMMENT - JOAN LIT­TLE

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 specjoan@co­geco.ca

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