0 for 11 – sounds like the Maple Leaf’s box score but its really what Councillor Sharman wants levied in taxes.

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON March 24, 2011 – It started out being a 10%`tax increase over the four year term of this council – which Mayor Goldring thought would play out at 2.5% each year. That was the “policy” the former council left in place for the new council put in office December 1st.

Ward 5 Councillor Paul Sharman didn’t see it that way and at a Committee meeting he chaired early in February, he dropped a bit of a bomb – 0% was possible and Sharman wanted to give city hall staff a direction then to craft a budget that would result in a zero percent increase for the 2011 tax year.

Staff gulped when he dropped that bomb and Mayor Goldring scrambled to convince Sharman not to put the question to the rest of council. Sharman was amendable to that.

But that didn’t stop Paul Sharman and his actions seem to have moved the Mayor a couple of percentage points. At a Chamber of Commerce Q&A session the Mayor said that he expected the increase to come in at maybe 1.5% or perhaps as low as 1%. Sharman is clearly having an influence.

Pushing for no tax increase in 2011

Pushing for no tax increase in 2011

At a council committee meeting earlier this week Sharman issued a prepared statement o his fellow council members in which he set out his thinking. He trotted out some numbers “10 years of 57% tax increases or 4 years of 27% tax increases” and suggested part of why many members of council were elected was because tax payers were saying “enough”.

Sharman agrees with that “enough” statement and added that tax increases and significant staff pay increases “in the context of what has been dubbed ‘the great recession’ was something that was brought to our attention as we knocked on doors during the election campaign”. Sharman adds that “the current Mayor campaigned to some degree on a platform of fiscal restraint.” Sharman adds that “fiscal restraint and accountability is central to my being here.” Nice to hear a council member say he feels accountable isn’t it?

Then Sharman, ever the numbers man trots out some statistics: “Seniors and those living in poverty account for 25% of the population; unemployment is at 2.5%; generous pay increases for non union staff over the last six years have been significantly better than the private sector and city hall benefits are better still.”

Can you see where Sharman is going? He drives his knife in even deeper when he mentions the $9.3 million surplus in 2010 and before that $3.3 million in 2009. For Sharman a tax increase of any kind in 2011 makes no sense. He points out that the city does not yet have a Strategic Plan in place and does not know yet what its long term spending requirements are going to be.

“Now is a good time” declares Sharman “to take a break and give the taxpayers a one year rest from tax increases” – the city coffers can afford it.”

Sharman supports the Mayors 10% over four years but he “sees no merit in taking an increase before we have completed the Strategic Plan”. He adds: “We have not identified our priorities yet.”

“Further” he adds, “I see no reason to take a tax increase when city coffers have been supplemented by two years of significant surplus and when salaries and headcount are perhaps overly comfortable.”

He wanted the committee to take the initiative “right now” and issue a Staff Direction to forget the 2.5% tax increase and bring in a zero budget for 2011. Well, his fellow council members weren’t biting at the bit quite as firmly as Sharman was and Mayor Goldring said he couldn’t support such a Direction at this point in time.

That didn’t stop Sharman. His proposal (and it gets quite technical from here on in folks) was to have staff pay increases that reflect the state of the economy giving consideration to the generosity of the last few years.

Big on providing services. Political enough to be on the winning side?

Big on providing services. Political enough to be on the winning side?

Implement a headcount cap equivalent to 2010 budget, less the 12 existing positions that have been acknowledged as surplus, to encourage a better assignment of staff and productivity improvement. Translation: Not enough work being done by staff for the money we are paying them.

What does it all come down to? Its not clear yet if Sharman has the support of enough council members to make this happen. The Mayor has certainly moved down from his 2.5% and both Councillors Taylor and Dennison are on for less tax. Lancaster can be convinced.

The most risk adverse member of this council. She might want to keep all the surplus in a piggy bank, but she does listen to her peers.

The most risk adverse member of this council. She might want to keep all the surplus in a piggy bank, but she does listen to her peers.

Craven and Mead Ward – hard to tell. Craven tends to spar with Sharman on the numbers. Goldring has begun to let himself think in terms of being a two term Mayor and he is surely mindful that Sharman did have his hat in the ring for the office of Mayor for a short period of time. Once you’ve tasted the forbidden fruit you tend to want more of it.

What is interesting from a purely political perspective is that several of the council members don’t see or appreciate the political optics of coming in with no tax increase. The city can well afford it. Sure there are others who want something different done with that surplus – the Chamber of Commerce wants city council to pass a resolution that has 50% of all future surpluses going directly to the hospital development fund. Good luck on that one fellows.

It will all come out in the wash but, given that it is your wallet going through the ringer – you might want to give your council member a call and pass along your views.

Telephone numbers for each are listed below:

Mayor Goldring 905-335-7607

Ward 1 – Rick Craven 905-335-7600 Ext 7587

Ward 2 – Marianne Meed Ward 905-335-7600 Ext 7588

Ward 3 – John Taylor 905-335-7600 Ext 7459

Ward 4 – Jack Dennison 905-632-4800 Ext 211

Ward 5 – Paul Sharman 905-335-7600 Ext 7591

Ward 5 – Blair Lancaster 905- 335-7600 Ext 7592

They all have voice mail – leave a message, but be polite.


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