If something that is clearly incorrect is repeated often enough - does that make it true?

burlbudget2016By Pepper Parr

January 19th 2016


The budget city council is debating this week and will make law next week adheres to the Long Term Financial plan created in 2012 which contained the following key strategic objectives for the city:

1. Competitive Property Taxes
2. Responsible Debt Management
3. Improved Reserves and Reserve Funds
4. Predictable Infrastructure Investment
5. Recognized Value for Services

Ford Joan at Budget Bazaar

City treasurer Joan Ford puts the numbers together – she does so at city council’s direction.

Staff have shown a realistic scenario where assessment growth is slowing; no new legacy projects are forecasted; and infrastructure renewal funding is addressed over the 20 year time horizon.

The budget being debated recognizes budget drivers and includes the following assumptions within each item:

Maintaining Current Service Levels – Base Budget

Inflationary Impacts and User Fees

With the exception of human resources and commodities (hydro, water, fuel etc.), 2.0% inflation per year has been applied to all other expense categories (materials and supplies, purchased services and contributions to local boards and committees)

• The increases to User Rates and Fees assumed a 2.0% increase per annum, which is dependent on the nature of the revenues and external market conditions

• An annual increase of 3% to the Vehicle Depreciation Reserve Fund to sustain the City’s fleet and equipment inventory

Corporate Expenditures/Revenues

• An annual increase to the provisions for Insurance and Contingency Reserves of
$300,000 and $100,000 respectively

• An increase in Investment Income of $100,000 per year in 2019 and beyond given the current low interest rate environment

Financial impact 20 year

Long term tax increase projections – above current inflation every year.

Other Expenditures
Infrastructure Renewal Funding and Joseph Brant Hospital

• An annual increase of 1.25% for Dedicated Infrastructure Renewal Funding from 2016-2022, reduced to 1.0% for 2023-2033 and 0.5% for 2034 and 2035. This provides funding for capital renewal, as per the Asset Management Financing Plan (approved 20 year scenario)

• An annual increase of 0.2% (2016-2019) in order to finance the repayment of additional tax supported debt for roadways. This will be repositioned in 2020 to fund renewal needs for new infrastructure

• Includes the repositioning of the hospital levy to infrastructure renewal in 2019 ($1.3 million), 2026 ($900,000) and 2027 ($2.6 million)

As with all forecasts, it is imperative to recognize that there are a vast number of unknown factors that will likely occur in the future that could impact the model. In order to address these unpredictable factors, an amount of $300,000 has been included in the 2018 forecast, increasing by $50,000 per year.

A community, still in its formative stage, holds a fund raising drive for a school that has yet to open. Construction is on going and so are the muddy roads.

Assessment growth is stagnant – costs of running the city increasing – there is a crunch coming that is going to hit pocketbooks.

Assessment Growth
Assessment growth is estimated to be 0.9% in 2017 and decreasing by 0.1% per year to 0.6% in 2020 and beyond. Over the last 5 years, weighted assessment growth has ranged from a low of 0.5% to just over 1.0%. The five year average is 0.9%.

Financial Matters:
The single largest portion of City funding comes from property taxes. As outlined in the Long Term Financial Plan, strategic objective 1 is Competitive Property Taxes; whereby, “the city must respond to the demand for programs, services, and the continued maintenance of our existing infrastructure in an affordable manner.

The city must strike a balance between conflicting goals, such as minimizing tax increases, while maintaining existing programs, services and infrastructure, and providing new services in a climate of increasing costs.”

The report then comes to this astounding conclusion: The 2017 -2035 forecast meets recommendation 1, whereby, “Base budget tax rate changes align closely with inflation”.

Inflation currently hovers at the 2% level and is expected to remain at that level for the next few years. The simulation forecasts the city tax impact from 2017 to 2035 to begin at 3.89% reducing to 2.96%.

Do they do mathematics differently at city hall?

And if they repeat the statement: “Base budget tax rate changes align closely with inflation”. often enough does that make it true?

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Council to debate the operating portion of the budget - looks like a hike of 3.85% over last year.

burlbudget2016By Pepper Parr

January 19, 2016


The report going to the Community and Corporate Services Committee asks city council to approve the 2016 Operating Budget including any budget amendments.

The proposed net tax levy for 2016 is set at $146,883,341.

Members of Council have had the Operating Budget book since November and will now debate the operating budget and listen to public delegations at meetings on January 19, 20 and 21.

The budget goes to city council on January 25th where it gets approved.

The city held a just the one public meeting on January 14, 2016 at Tansley Woods Community Centre. The intent of the meeting was to provide residents with an overview of the 2016 proposed budget.

A disturbing comment was made when city council discussed the operating budget. Treasurer said her staff would inform the public about the operating budget but would not be “engaging” the public. No one corrected the treasurer – so this city might have to swallow a budget that asks for an increase of 3.85 % over the 2015 budget.

With inflation at the 2% level one would think the people paying the bills would want to have some say in why such a big difference between inflation and the increase in taxes. Perhaps city council feels the public had their say when they re-elected every member of this council in 2014.

Members of Council are given thick binders will details on the spending plans and are asked to submit Budget Action requests in which each council member sets out items they would like to see changed.

Some of the changes that have been put forward are set out below:

Councillor Rick Craven, centre, with a copy of the 2013 budget on a memory stick. Craven did a superb job of chairing the budget committee last year. He will have no argument with candidate Henshell over the need for additional shopping facilities in Aldershot - getting themt there has been the challenge.

Members of city council were given the budget on a memory stick that allowed them to do simulations on what the budget total would look like if they added or deleted an expense items. This year they went through the budget line by line individually. Based on what the public has seen so far – it doesn’t look as if there is going to be much in the way of cuts. From the left are Councillors Jack Dennison, ward 4, Rick Craven ward 1 and John Taylor ward 3.

Ward 1 Councillor Rick Craven wants to see the one time funding of $35,000 for the Downtown Data Collection Project pulled. He points out that the original staff recommendation in September 2015 included the following observation: “After considering the staff and funding resources that would be required to collect accurate and useful data to inform the performance indicators and headline measures, staff is of the opinion that the value of obtaining and maintaining such data as a means to evaluating the experience of the downtown may be limited” Remove project and one-time funding of $35,000

The Performing Arts Centre appears to be facing an uphill battle for the additional business case funding it is asking for;  $72,500 for a technician and $115,800 for someone to work on community engagement.

Ward 4 Councillor Jack Dennison wants the Performing Arts centre to stay within their budget; Councillor Blair Lancaster (Ward 6) wants data to show the success of the previous contract position and indicate if the proposed permanent position could be self-sustaining.

He also wants to know: Why has the Human Resources budget been increased by 6.2%?

Why is the Arts and Culture – Human Resources year-end projection for 2015 $43,000 over the budget?

Why is the budget $1,009,140 for Human Resources?

Why has the Human Resources budget for Council and Citizen Committee been increased by $30,000?

Dennison has always been the Councillor with the best understanding of the budget and has consistently asked the toughest questions.


Ward 2 Councillor Marianne Meed Ward seems to have focused on transit and seniors in the changes she wants to see in the 2016 budget.

Ward 2 Councillor Marianne Meed Ward has focused some of her energy on seniors and transit.

She wants to replace the existing business case with the following staff direction (Part 1): “Direct the Director of Transit to implement a pilot program for free transit on Mondays for seniors (65+) for the period April 1 – Sept 30 2016 and report back with results and a recommendation as part of the 2017 budget cycle.” The goal of the program is to increase ridership among seniors; among the Key Performance Indicators that will be tracked during the pilot are: change in ridership among seniors on Mondays; change in ridership among seniors Tuesday to Sunday; change in revenue from seniors Mondays and the rest of the week.

Replace the existing business case with the following staff direction (Part 2): “Direct the Director of Transit to implement a pilot program of a $30 monthly pass for seniors (65+) (about $1/day) for the period April 1 – Sept 30 2016 and report back with results and a recommendation as part of the 2017 budget cycle.” The goal of the program is to increase ridership among seniors and remove affordability concerns for people who may not qualify for the Regional SPLIT pass. Among the Key Performance Indicators that will be tracked during the pilot are: change in sales and revenue of monthly passes for seniors; change in ridership among seniors.

Ward 5 Councillor Paul Sharman has focused om both information technology and corporate management and is asking that staff be directed to prepare an assessment of each of the services with respect to their relative strategic importance. The objective is help determine where we might wish to reduce/cut spending and therefore be able to re-allocate funds to services which are strategically more important.

Councillors Sharman and Lancaster: both part of the Shape Burlington committee who seem to have forgotten what the report was all about - civic engagement

Councillors Sharman and Lancaster – both had changes they wanted to see in the 2016 budget.

Staff be directed to conduct a series of Council Workshops to explain and seek agreement about each service: strategic positioning; service improvement goals; improvement actions: short/medium & long term resource/financial requirement projections.

The Strategic Plan has now gone through an extensive public review – when staff returns with its summary of what the public thought of the document it will be brought to Council for adoption. Some of what Councillor Sharman is asking for will then get matched up with what is included in the Strategic Plan.

Sharman is perhaps the Councillor with the best understanding of spending on Information technology. He suggests that a justification based on the 2 1/2 year old report is of questionable value today due the pace of change in technology. He points out that a report did correctly point out that City systems are aging and should be updated.

Rather than spend $209,350 in 2016 and $407,250 in 2017 Sharman proposes the following staff direction: Funding for IT Business Cases be approved but be refined by the City Manager relative to his assessment of the alignment of IT projects, in the context of the Strategic Plan, and the current strategic review of IT now underway, as well as the approach proposed in the subject Business Cases.

City manager James Ridge has some IT experience – but his desk is pretty full with managing the city – and he no longer has a management level between his office and the directors. Interesting that there has been no mention of just what the city is going to have in the way of a management structure going forward.

Goldring - Christmas picture

Mayor Rick Goldring didn’t ask for any cuts to the 2016 budget but did want the city manager to look for ways to increase revenue.

Mayor Goldring didn’t seem to see anything he wanted to cut in the 2016 budget but did want the city manager to study approaches that the city can take in revenue generation and provide a report to committee with the presentation of the 2017 budget

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Advocacy group maintains the city budget shortchanges transit users - less is being spent on transit this year than last.

burlbudget2016By Staff

January 13th, 2016


City Council will meet next week for two days to thrash out the 2016 budget which, at this point, looks like it will increase 3.85% over what they asked for last year.
The Bank of Canada set inflation at 2% and for the most part the country has been able to keep spending within the inflation range.

For some reason Burlington’s city council feels it has to spend more in 2016 than it did in 2015 (3.85% is the most recent budget increase projection) which has the people at Bfast (Burlington for Accessible, Sustainable Transit) upset because they don’t see any increase in the amount being sent on transit.

“Despite commitments in the City’s Strategic Plan, transit users in Burlington are again being shortchanged by the municipality‘s 2016 budget,” says a spokesperson for Burlington For Accessible, Sustainable Transit (BFAST).

Council is set to approve a budget for the system that provides no funding increase for 2016.

Doug Brown, chair of Bfast, wants to see a bus schedule with routes that work for people and not the current bus route set up in place. It doesn't work claims Brown.

Doug Brown, chair of Bfast says the city is short changing transit users.

“When inflation is considered, the 2016 transit budget is actually less than the budget in 2015,” commented BFAST spokesperson Doug Brown.

“Funding and service cuts, schedule changes and fare increases over the past four years have resulted in a 17% decline in ridership for Burlington’s chronically underfunded transit system. This is despite the requirement of the Ontario Municipal Board that the city increase transit ridership to 11% of all city trips by 2030.

“In contrast,” he ads ” Oakville has seen large increases in transit use as a result of higher funding and better service levels.”

“Burlington’s politicians like to point to the survey by MoneySense magazine that rates our community as the most livable mid-size city in Canada,” Brown said. “But that same magazine notes Burlington is well down the list when it comes to walkability and transit.”

Brown said adequate transit service is an investment, not an expense.

Bus station John Street lined up 1 side

Bus drivers got a pay increase, some new buses arrived – but transit advocates say the city is still not spending enough on transit.

“How much does it end up costing us when people without cars can’t get to their jobs? What’s the real cost of students not being able to take advantage of educational opportunities because Burlington Transit can’t get them to school on time? How much does it cost every taxpayer to own a second or even third car because they can’t rely on the transit system?”

Council is set to vote on the 2016 budget on Jan. 25..

BFAST is a citizen’s group formed in 2012 to advocate for better transit in Burlington.

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2015 in review - July, August and September - some significant appointments made.

News 100 redBy Staff

December 29, 2015


The year in review – July, August and September – how did the city do?

July 2015
Union wage settlements of 4.25% and 6.95% negotiated by CUPE.

Burlington Transit asking its riders what they want

HOV lanesWe get to use HOV lanes with two occupants in the vehicle – as we prepare for the day when we have to pay to use that lane with just a single occupant in the car.

Burlington’s federal Liberals launch their campaign; they sense a victory in the air.

Changing the culture at city hall; bringing in the department leadership needed – and getting a Code of Conduct in place for the politicians.

Federal government decides the CN Milton Logistics hub needs to benefit from the eyes of an independent panel. Truck traffic impact on Burlington roads worrisome.

Messy council debate refers the Code of Conduct to the city manager.

Flood Fairview plazaCommunity Foundation closes it books on the Disaster Relief Fund – $2.72 million distributed.

Is the Food Truck a fad, a new phenomenon or the shape of things to come?

Is there a future for the oldest farmhouse in the downtown core? Could be if the city planners and the developer get creative.

Premier plans to make room for more politicians in the legislature.

An electric vehicle charging station will be installed in downtown Burlington at the parking garage on Locust Street.

The Flood – It was small in area and it hovered in the one place and just kept pouring – dropping almost as much rain as Hurricane Hazel in 1954.

August 2015

Can we pull it off? The potential is significant and it will certainly change the city in a rather positive way.

Premier tells Ontario Mayors they will get a better deal next time there is a localized disaster.

Suzanne HainesBurlington imports a new executive director for the Performing Arts Centre from Richmond BC; Susan Haines starts September 1st

Rebuild of the Freeman station is coming along nicely – they still need help with a lot of the work. Get in on it now – when this thing is done it will be something to be able to say you were a part of.

Where do we put 35,000 people in the next 25 years? And what will the city have in place in the way of roads and transit to move these people around?

September 2015
Hydro cuts the ribbon on a micro co-generation turbine that has the potential to contribute significantly to the city’s Community Energy Plan

Is there an Arts Council in the city’s future? Should there be one? Does anyone care?

Stuart_Miller___GalleryStuart Miller appointed Director of Education for the Halton District School Board

A fourth GO station for Burlington? It is in the works.

City Clerk opens the kimono just a little and lets you see how Council voted on recorded votes.

Most of the community and corporate affairs discussion at council was be behind closed doors – six confidential items on the list.

City challenges residents to Think Outside the Car – the process of changing the car culture has begun

Transportation Minister explains what the provincial government is going to do with rail transit – catch up and keep up!

Harper in Burlington sept 1 - 2015Prime Minister in town with a promise to build an Advanced Manufacturing hub – if he is re-elected.

The full year:

Ist quarter – January, February and March

2nd quarter – April, May and June.

4th quarter – October November and December.  To follow.

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Performinmg Arts Centre budget request creeping closer to $1 million - Economic impact study claims they add $7.8 million to the local economy.

burlbudget2016By Pepper Parr

December 2, 2015


Part of the budget process Burlington uses is the presenting of business cases for new spending.

The Burlington Performing Arts Centre, which is working at branding itself as The Centre, has two cases that is will take to Council.

BPAC at night

Former site of the Burlington police station The Centre is working it way towards a business model that keeps the taxpayer subsidy as low as possible

The Centre is one of six boards and agencies that are not run out of city hall but receive significant funding from the city. Included in that list are the library, the Art Gallery of Burlington, the Museums of Burlington, Tourism Burlington and the Economic Development Corporation.

The total cost to the city for what are called Local Board and other agencies was $13,471,026 in 2015

To fully appreciate the cost of a service one has to look at the capital costs, any business cases put forward and the profit and loss situation for a board or agency.

The Centre has a strong revenue stream that consists of tickets sales, space rentals and sponsorships.

The Centre has been operational for four years – it had its problems during the first few years and found that it needed a change at the Executive Director level.

Once that change was made the flow of red ink was lessened and more seats were filled on a regular basis.  Significantly more community based events were added to the program.

In 2013 city Council approved funding of $131,700 for two year contract positions as well as $225,250 for a “revenue shortfall”

City council did this under the assumption that after two additional seasons the city would have a clearer understanding of the true costs of operating the centre. Quite why this financial analysis was not done when The Centre was proposed as a benefit to the city is far from clear.

It was former Mayor Rob MacIsaac who put all the moving parts together and got the dream the city had had for many years to build a performing arts centre.  The community certainly got behind when it came to raising funds to build. The centre came in on time and on budget.

Suzanne Haines

Suzanne Haines recently appointed Executive Director of the Burlington Performing Arts Centre.

What many, probably most of the city councillors, didn’t understand was that performing arts centres need consistent ongoing financial support. There was one city Councillor who actually thought The Centre would contribute to the city’s tax coffers.  The Centre did manage to spread the one time “revenue shortfall” funding over a three seasons.

They report that past funding for the two positions is now exhausted

The two positions The Centre wants to fill are business cases that have been put forward and if approved they will bring the 2016 base budget contribution from the city to $763,861 plus an on-going program change of $188,300 for a total 2016 contribution of $952,161 – which is pretty close to $1 million each year.

City council gulped when the cost rose to $1.2 million a number of years ago. The community was led to believe that the city contribution was going to be in the $500,000 range and seemed to be comfortable with that.

The business cases are for a Venue Technician and Community Engagement. Lighting and sound equipment is complex and the technology keeps changing. In 2016 The Centre wants to add LED theatrical lighting fixtures and portable audio equipment. Canada 150 funding ( a federal government initiative that put funds into municipalities across the country) has been identified for this project.

One of the early complaints people had with The Centre was that there wasn’t enough time for community groups and that the cost for many was prohibitive.

Former Executive Director Brian McCurdy did a fabulous job of bringing in small groups and expanding the educational program. It is not unusual to see four or five school buses parked outside The Centre.

Those students are the theatre goers of the future – these programs are a large part of what performing arts centres are built to achieve.

The Centre created an annual membership program that had modest goals in its first year – the plan is to ramp this up.

Everyone is looking for sponsorship – the wonder is that there is any water left in that well.

The budget for 2016 is set at $3,470,871.

Based on the numbers available at this point – it is not clear if this budget has been approved by the Theatre board – the city is being asked to provide 27% of the cost of running The Centre.

Salaries wages and benefits make up 48% of the budget.

BPAC August schedule 2015

Calendar of performances at the Burlington Performing Arts Centre during August of 2015

Last years The Centre was close to closed during the month of August – there wasn’t much being offered.

The activity for December isn’t much better.

BPAC December schedule

Calendar of event at the Burlington Performing Arts Centre during December of 2015

The Centre recently produced an Economic Impact report done by Natural Capital Resources that reported The Centre had $7.8 million to the local economy – that figure included the salaries and wages paid out.

“This impact” said the report “has grown steadily since 2011 as the number of events and associated attendance at The Centre has grown. The study further shows that The Centre has retained cultural expenditures and related economic impact, as Burlington residents stay here to consume their cultural product more often. This repatriation of the cultural spending in Burlington translates to roughly $1.3 million of economic activity annually.

“Patron expenditures flow through the local economy in the form of sales in local businesses, restaurants and stores and impact both prosperity of business and create jobs”, said Executive Director Suzanne Haines. “The Centre’s operations and the expenditures of its patrons are estimated to account for roughly one hundred full-time equivalents each year, sixty-six percent of these jobs are in the community”.

BPAC Econ Impact 2014

Pie chart indicates where the economic impact was felt.

“Over fifteen thousand patrons were surveyed and approximately two thousand responses were completed, representing an outstanding thirteen percent return rate, which makes the study statistically significant. The survey found that fifty percent of The Centre’s patrons indicated they combine food as part of their performing arts experience and twenty-three percent of patrons shop as part of their performing arts experience.

This is probably not a statement the local restaurants would agree with.

BPAC - Econ Impact line graph dollars

The amount of money spent has climbed – has it climbed enough – what is the ideal economic benefit supposed to be?

“Ninety percent of The Centre’s patrons rate overall performance quality as ‘excellent’ or ‘very good’ and seventy-five percent indicated performances to be ‘excellent’ or ‘very good’ value for the ticket price.”

During Culture week in September The Centre put on several Friday night Jazz events that were held out on the plaza – they were hugely successful – and they were free. The public got great value. The event is expected to be repeated in 2016.

The Centre is will announce its fifth season next May. It is at that time the public will have some sense as to what newly appointed Executive Director Susan Haines brings to the table.

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Preparing for a storm water tax - there is nothing simple about this one.

News 100 greenBy Pepper Parr

November 24th, 2015


When a new tax is created more than one department at city hall gets involved.

The Finance department is gathering data to determine how a tax to cover the cost of managing storm water is justified; what the tax should amount to and how it should be administered.

The Capital Works department works at determining what has to be done to protect people and property from storm water damage in the future.

The Engineering department is costing out the work that has to be done and creating time lines for construction and repair.

Flood map

Our flood – as seen on a radar screen.

It is now understood that climate change is going to result in much different weather patterns. We are now paying the price for all the carbon we let into the atmosphere.

The three departments will prepare a staff report that will be a complete review and detailed plan including significant public engagement for the potential implementation of a user fee.

Municipalities tax property and use that revenue to run the city. The higher the value of the property – the higher the tax.

Storm water management taxes will be based on the size of the property and how much ground there is – people in condominiums will pay less than those with large yards and extensive driveways.

Figuring all this out will be the task of the Finance department.

Flood vulerability zone - yellow

The yellow shading is the highly vulnerable part of the city

Allan Magi, Executive Director of Capital Works uses the often precise language engineers bring to their work. “We need to determine the ‘conveyance capacity’ of the creeks and many of the culverts” he explains.

Tuck Creek is going to get a lot of attention with Roseland, Shore Acres – just about everything in the east end of the city getting a very close review.

Storm water - creeks

Burlington’s creeks in the east end of the city.

The city had a policy of not grooming the banks of the creeks all that much – the policy was to let small vegetation take a natural process and work its way into the soil bed. Under normal circumstances that was a good policy – but with thousands of gallons of water rushing through the creeks towards the lake all that vegetation got pushed forward and in some cases became damns that produced floods.

Culverts that had been in place for years and thought to be the right size proved to be far too small – they needed upgrading. Bridges have to be rebuilt and water pipes up graded.

The city hired a consulting group to prepare a detailed report on what happened and why. The Conservation Authority reported on what happened at the watershed level. The city had to focus on the many creeks that run from the edge of the escarpment through the city and into the lake.

Storm water - flood mitigation map

The fifteen projects that have to be completed are part of the phase two remediation plan.

The consulting firm, AMEC, produced a report that set out what had to be done to prevent the flooding and the engineers began to work through the costs.

The AMEC report, which is a document that is not easily read or understood and hasn’t been given the circulation it deserves. The consulting firm that did the work chose not to be available for any interviews which made it difficult to gain a solid understanding of the magnitude of what happened and what has to be done.

Both Finance, Capital works and Engineering are planning on holding a Workshop for Council that will set out what the issues are and discuss some of the options. There hope is that the full report can go to council sometime next summer.

Culverts overtopping

Culverts broke down – and water went wherever it could.

Included in the thinking being done at this point is a closer look at the “asset management plan”. Everything the city has is considered an asset – front end loaders, building – city hall itself is an asset and pipes in the ground – these are all assets that have to be managed. They each have a life span and the city keeps track of what has to be repaired, upgraded or replaced. There is some thought being given to creating a reserve fund that would set aside monies needed to maintain these assets. A portion of any storm water fee might include funds that would get put into the reserve.

Burlington is currently struggling to get its roads up to a standard – have you driven down Guelph Line south of the QEW recently – and has chosen to use gas tax funds which it gets from the province that are normally used to fund transit – but has used some of it to get caught up with the huge infrastructure deficit.

The thinking is that creating a reserve now will prevent that kind of problem in the future.

Sewer covers being blown

The system of pipes were unable to handle the volume of water and so up it came through the sewer system.

Overland flooding, the way the insurance industry is looking at the problem, a closer look at the flood plains in the city and housing that sits on those flood plains are all part of the work that is being done.

There is a lot more to report on this subject. City council has a significant task ahead of it.

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What does a possible 3.85% tax increase look like in graphic form? What does our tax hit look like when compared with others?

News 100 redBy Pepper Parr

November 20, 2015


What do we know about ourselves as taxpayers – and how do we compare with other jurisdictions in terms of the value we get for the dollars we pay?

At the first peek of the budget for the next fiscal year we got a sense of what the city plans to do with the dollars it gets from you.

The tax bill you get is for three levels of government: the city; the Regional government and the Boards of Education.  City council can only influence and change its budget – and at this point it looks like they are going to want an increase of 3.85% over what they asked for last year.
tax breakout

Every city council likes to boast that they have a lower tax rate relative to their neighbours. The chart shown compares data for 2015 – Oakville will have a lower rate than Burlington for the fiscal years we are going into.

Competitive tax look

How much of the household budget gets spent on paying for services – quite low. We certainly don’t get the same value for money from the food we purchase.

Taxes at 5 of HH income

Based on what has been proposed Burlington is going to have the highest increase in the Region. Is there any one expense category that puts us at the top?   Road repair. The city let its infrastructure slide for too many years and is now spending heavily to get caught up.

That one time hospital levy that is going to be with us for a while yet hasn’t helped – but we needed the hospital. The old Joseph Brant Memorial hospital had passed its best before date some time ago.

Tax increases during the period of time the seven members of the current council have been in office – they were all re-elected in 2014 – is nothing to write home about. The exceptionally low increase in 2011 was the result of some very bold moves made by first term council member Paul Sharman. It was a bold move then, unfortunately, hasn’t been repeated.

That blue line running through the bar charts is very misleading – members of Council love to refer to a number that includes taxes from all three levels of government – the other two levels of government are lower than what the city wants – when all three are added together the total as an average is lower – misleading – your politicians playing mind games with you.

What makes the line misleading is that there is nothing Burlington can do to change the education tax and not that much they can do to impact the Regional tax levy. The city is completely responsible for the taxes it asks it citizens to pay – and it is at that level that they have to be judged.

Tax increases - historical


While the city has a tonne of money salted away in reserve funds – it still has to borrow funds. The province is required by the province to maintain reserve funds for everything from winter snow removal costs to information technology upgrades.

Burlington has a policy of not letting the debt charges as a percentage of net revenues to climb beyond 12.5% – the province will not allow a municipality to have a debt ratio higher than 25%

The proposed operating budget for the 2014-15 is set out below.  The one to keep your eye on is that Storm Water management – expect to see a new line on your tax bill for between $50 and $100 for every household with a driveway.  Parking lots will be assessed a tax for Storm Water as well  which is going to hit the malls where it hurts

Proposed capital spending

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Tax increase for next year 3.85% in the budget overview - Oakville came in at 2.45%

Newsflash 100By Staff

November 17, 2105


Look for a tax increase of about 3.85% – Mayor Goldring suggested they might try and get it down to 3.25% during an Overview of both the capital and Operating budgets for the 2015-2016 fiscal year.

The Gazette will provide details on a budget that will result in a total tax levy of $146,883,341


Don’t expect to see very much in the way of public engagement in the budget that council is working its way through – the word is that they will inform you – and that the time set aside for delegations will not include an evening session.

Don’t look for all that much public engagement. Director of Finance Joan Ford said the city would “inform” the public but did not [plan on “engaging” the public on the contents of the budget.

There will be one occasion for the public to delegate on the city budget – January 19th at the Community and Corporate Service meeting – there will not be an evening session.

Burlington’s budget, in its first form, has been presented to Council before the Regional Council has decided on how much money it is going to need.

The Director of Finance expects the surplus for the fiscal year that is ending to come in at about $3.5 million. A large part of that surplus was the result of a supplementary tax payment – $1.8 million.

The finance people in Burlington continue to refer to the surplus as a positive variance.

Oakville has predicted a tax increase of 2.45%

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City and two of its unions reach a tentative agreement

News 100 redBy Staff

June 29, 2015


The city and two of its unions have reached a tentative agreement which will, if ratified by the union membership, maintain the no strike in 20 years  record.

The Outside Workers and Arena/Outdoor Pool Operators (CUPE Local 44) and Burlington Transit workers. CUPE 2723 were in a strike position

CUPE 44 will hold a ratification meeting on July 2, which was its tentative strike date. If the union fails to ratify the vote, the union has promised the city 72 hours notice before calling a strike.

That union had not yet begin to make up any picket signs.

The public will have to wait until the details of the tentative agreement are known before the size of the wallop to the wallet is known.

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City's piggy bank is pretty full - nice fat reserves keep the Councillors happy - happy enough to reduce taxes?

News 100 redBy Pepper Parr

June 22, 2015


At March 31, 2015 the total  balances of all the reserve funds amounted to $146.0 million, which is $2.8 million lower than the corresponding figure of $148.8 million at March 31, 2014.

Of the total Reserves and Reserve Funds $38.7 million is committed for various projects leaving an uncommitted balance of $107.3 million. The commitments represent expenditures approved by Council in previous years’ capital budgets or funds held for specific future purposes.

The following chart provides an historical perspective of uncommitted reserve and reserve fund balances as at March 31:

Reserve and Reserve Fund Uncommitted Balances as at March 31

Reserves - Operating related reserve funds

Municipalities in Ontario are not permitted to run a deficit – should that happen the province would send in its bean counters and the city would be under trusteeship.

What the city works to avoid is creating and maintaining  reserve funds that are drawn on when needed.

There are literally dozens of reserve funds and its pretty easy to move money from one to the other.  There is the story told about some Canadian Open golf tournament tickets that got paid for out of a reserve fund – that somehow didn’t really clear city council.  That was a different time and a different era.

The city creates a budget to cover operating expenses, salaries and paper clips and on occasion that operating budget ends up with a surplus – which the finance now calls a “positive variance”.  In Burlington that surplus ranges above and blow a million – except for the year when it ballooned to more than $9 million – heads eventually rolled for that one.

Set out below are various reserve funds the city has and what the balances are:

Reserve - Capiotal related reserves


Half a million in the piggy bank for “Growth Studies” is kind of handy.  Transit doesn’t have any wiggle room – the vast majority of their reserve is committed.  Some technology has been bought but has yet to be installed.  They might manage to do that work when the drivers are off the job should they decide to go on strike.

Six million in as contingency fund; another $5 million in the tax rate stabilization fund; $2 million in the Employe accident reserve – no wonder city council spends so much time in closed session on outstanding litigation matters.  That much money in reserve makes it almost worth suing the city – they can afford it.

Reserves - Operating related reserve fundslio

Reserve Transit and other capital reserve fundsAs of March 31, 2015 the operating budget shows a favourable variance of $800,568 with a year end projected favourable variance of $122,285

The Year end projection does not include the provision from the Severe Weather Reserve Fund.

Staff will continue to monitor and update the year-end projections as part of the 2015 Budget review currently underway.

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Board of education does a quickie and approves spending for both capital ($62.6 million) and operating ($685.7) spending in minutes - also says it will be going along with the new sex ed curriculum .

News 100 blueBy Walter Byj

June 9, 2015


There were not many items on the June 3rd agenda, but two of them had the potential to make for a long meeting. The increase in Education Development Charges were approved by the Halton District School Board without so much as a peep from any of the developers who have to come up with the cash.

There was a report from an economic consulting group that confirmed what everyone knew – land pieces had increased. Jack Ammendolia of Watson and Associates Economists confirmed that land costs have jumped again in Halton and the increase was necessary to cover the costs of new schools in Halton.

Since last year the per acre cost is as follows

Oakville from $1,250,000 to $1,440,000
Milton from $950,000 to $1,050,000
Halton Hills from $625,000 to $950,000

There was no number given for Burlington – there won’t be any new schools built here.

The residential development charge was increased from $3,380 to $3,969 per residence and from 87 cents to $1.02 per square foot in non residential development.  This represents a 17% increase for both residential and non residential.

The land increases were 15% for Oakville, 11% for Milton and 52% for Halton Hills.

The 2015-16 Capital and Operating Budget were two issuers that could easily lead to long and laborious session of questions and answers. That was not the case. The trustees took the board of education staff at their word and passed the $685.7 million operating budget for 2015-2016 as well as the $62.6 million capital budget faster than you could say Bob’s your uncle”. Burlington’s city council wishes it could get off as easily.

Along with two budgets the Operational Plan Goals for 2015-16 and Special Education Plan were also quickly passed – unanimously.

As the meeting was nearing conclusion, Director Euale announced that the School Board will be supportive of the revised Health and Physical Education Curriculum. In his remarks he pointed out that the HDSB website now has a Q & A section on the new curriculum.

The site is:

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Meed Ward convinces developes to meet with the community and talk about what they want to do with their downtown property holdings.

SwP thumbnail graphicBy Pepper ParrSmall click here - black

May 7, 2015


Ward 2 Councillor Marianne Meed Ward has always believed that citizens should be engaged much earlier in the decision making process than the city’s current policies require.

When changes are being made many people feel that the die has been cast and the politicians just want the voters to say they like what has already been decided upon.

Councillors Sharman and Lancaster: both part of the Shape Burlington committee who seem to have forgotten what the report was all about - civic engagement

Councillors Sharman and Lancaster: both part of the Shape Burlington committee who seem to have forgotten what the report was all about – civic engagement

That is the style we see from Councillors Craven, Sharman and Lancaster. Councillors Taylor and Dennison tend to show some flexibility.

The Mayor tends to sit between the two groups. He gets keen on an idea and sticks with it – but when there is significant blow back – he backs away. Bicycle lanes on Lakeshore Road is perhaps his worst example – taking the wind turbine was another.

Burlington’s approach to civic engagement hasn’t gotten far beyond approving, unanimously, the Shape Burlington report and putting an “in principle” community engagement document in place but then never acting on it.

Vanessa Williams + Woodruff Budget meet

Vanessa Warren on the right wanted to know why residents were not permitted to have real input on the creation on the city budget – she didn’t like the idea of reading through a document with decisions already made set out for her.

During the public budget deliberations in 2013, Vanessa Warren, who was just beginning to come to the attention of the public, asked at a meeting at the Art Gallery, why the public wasn’t seeing the numbers when they were being put together. She objected to having to look at numbers and get to make a comment and then go home – with nothing changing.

Meed Ward wants to do it differently. Her first reference is usually to her constituents – who meet almost as community council. She listens, is frequently surprised at what she hears from her constituents and then makes changes.

Attend a ward 1 or a ward 6 community meeting and watch the flow of information and ideas – they go in just the one direction. These are the fundamental differences in how Councillors Sharman, Meed Ward and Craven see their jobs.

The older members of the population are content with leaving everything in the hands of the politicians – that was their experience and they are comfortable with that approach.

There is a younger generation that doesn’t buy into that top down approach. They are comfortable with searching out their own information and will debate with their council member.

The two groups in ward 5 who were very unhappy with the way their Council member represented them with the sewer back up problems that did serious damage to their homes made their views known frequently.  They didn’t believe they were being heard and went off on their own.

Sharman for his part was very sincere in his efforts to do something for his constituents – it was a matter of very different operational styles. Sharman prefers command – the residents prefer collaboration – not Mr. Sharman’s strong point.

Meed Ward has invited residents to participate in a series of workshops that will see major downtown land owners, city staff, businesses and residents meet to discuss the future of their downtown.

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

Meed Ward used up her postage budget for the year in her first three months as a Council member.  Her style is to get information out to people.

What Meed Ward has managed to do is pull the people who own the land into the discussion – let them hear what residents would like to see. The smarter developers listen to residents and bring them on side – it does away with loud, noisy contentious public meetings.

The Molinaro’s learned the hard way with their Brock Street condominium that it is better to work with residents than fight them. When they moved forward with their Fairview Road – five tower – Paradigm project they worked with the community and with the residents – guess what – no noisy contentious public meetings.

The ADI Development Group decided from the GetGo that they would bull their way through the city planning department and city council and get themselves before the OMB where they think they have a better chance of getting a 28 storey tower on a plot of land less than an acre in size approved.  They just might be right.

Meed Ward arranged for a public meeting on the expansion and significant upgrade to Brant Square Plaza. The project met all the zoning requirements; they could have asked for more height but chose not to.

Meed Ward takes the view that all the decisions and as much information as possible should be run by the citizens. Petty power politics isn’t her game.

The workshops will allow participants to provide input into what they think the downtown should look like in the future.

The first workshop takes place on May 13 at Burlington Lion’s Club Hall beginning at 7 p.m. and will have city planners sharing information about existing city policies and what’s up for review.

Participants will also start to map out principles around design, compatibility, height, density, heritage, jobs, and more.


Citizens at a public budget meeting – they get to comment – they don’t get to demand that changes be made.  The meetings are more of a public relations exercise.

“Residents want to be involved in downtown development early on,” said Meed Ward. “This approach brings together all stakeholders to collectively and collaboratively shape the future of our downtown.”

Seating is limited for the May 13 workshop. For more information and to register, please contact Georgie Gartside, Assistant to Councillors, at georgie.gartside@burlington.ca or 905-335-7600, ext. 7368.

This is an approach that most of Burlington doesn’t benefit from – with the exception of Councillor Taylor who has a long standing working relationship with his community.

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Regional chair takes his A team to Queen's Park to state the Halton case and squeeze some dollars from the province to pay for the growth they expect.

News 100 greenBy Pepper Parr

February 25, 2015


If you ever wanted to know how networking is done effectively – read on.  Regional Chair Gary Carr along  with members of Regional Council spent three days meeting with Provincial leaders in Toronto to discuss critical issues facing Halton Region at the annual conference for the Rural Ontario Municipal Association (ROMA) and the Ontario Good Roads Association (OGRA).

“The Provincial Places to Grow Act mandates that Halton Region’s population must grow to 780,000 by the year 2031,” said Gary Carr, Halton’s Regional Chair. “To ensure that taxpayers are not responsible for the cost of growth, there are a number of critical supports including long-term funding and legislative amendments which are required from both the Provincial and Federal Governments.”
The Province mandates that Halton Region’s population must grow to 780,000 by the year 2031: who is going to pay for that growth?

Chair Carr and a Regional delegation consisting of Mayor Rick Bonnette, Town of Halton Hills; Stephen Tanner, Chief of Police; Regional Councillors Colin Best, Allan Elgar and Sean O’Meara and Regional Councillor and Second Vice President for the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM), Clark Somerville, met with the following Provincial leaders:

It was one of those thinmgs the politicians had to be on hand for - they were the ones that made the funding possible - so Ted McMeekin, the Liberal Minister of Agiculture from a riding next to us, was on hand to tell us what the government had done for us and to thank all the volunteers who made it possible.  The volunteers were the imnportant part. of the event.

 Ted McMeekin, the Liberal Cabinet to the west of Burlington is often the go to guy when Burlington needs help.

• Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, Ted McMeekin to discuss creating affordable housing solutions and conforming to Provincial growth legislation.
• Minister of Transportation, Steven Del Duca, to discuss Halton’s community infrastructure needs now and for the future.
• Attorney General, Madeline Meilleur, to discuss Halton’s immediate need for court resources and infrastructure including enhancements to Legal Aid funding.
• Minister of the Environment and Climate Change, Glen Murray, to discuss adapting and responding to climate change.
• Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry and Burlington MPP, Eleanor McMahon, to discuss Conservation Authority funding and approval.

Halton Regional Police Services Chief Tanner wants to tweet with you.

Halton Regional Service chief of police Steve Tanner was part of the delegation – did the Region need the muscle to make their point?

• Ontario NDP Caucus Members, Cindy Forster, MPP and Municipal Affairs and Housing Critic and Community and Social Services Critic, Catherine Fife, MPP and Finance and Treasury Board Critic, Jagmeet Singh, MPP and Government and Consumer Services Critic and Attorney General Critic to discuss an overview of the issues facing Halton Region.
• Interim Ontario PC Party Leader, Jim Wilson and Ernie Hardeman, MPP, to discuss an overview of the issues facing Halton Region.

• Minister of Heath and Long-Term Care, Dr. Eric Hoskins, to discuss cost-sharing for Public Health programs and services, ambulance off-loading delays and enhancements to the Central Ambulance Communications Centre (CACC).

During the ROMA OGRA Conference Premier Kathleen Wynne addressed municipal leaders, as did the PC Interim Party Leader, Jim Wilson and Ontario NDP Leader, Andrea Horwath.

“Meeting with Provincial leaders allows Halton Region to reiterate the importance of a continued partnership with the Province to address the many pressures we are facing as a result of mandated growth,” added Chair Carr. “We will continue to advocate for change from all levels of government in order to ensure that residents continue to enjoy a high quality of life in Halton Region.”

McMahon at Up Creek - side view - smile

Burlington’s MPP Eleanor McMahon took part in the three day networking event at Queen’s Park – she was the only voice from Burlington: was she loud enough – and if not loud was she effective enough?

Through the support of Regional Council, Halton Region has developed an Advocating for a Strong Halton campaign which identifies specific needs and requirements from the Provincial and Federal governments.

Carr, who was once Speaker of the Legislature at Queen’s Park knows his way around that building.  Does he know it well enough to pull out the dollars that are going to be needed to manage the growth the province is calling for?

And is Burlington going to see enough of whatever Carr gets to manage its growth?

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Tax rate for residential in 2015 set at 3.64% more than 2014. Long term view has a lot of road repair work to be done.

burlbudgetBy Pepper Parr

February 24, 2015


The budget was done – out came the rubber stamp – but they didn’t use it. There were a couple of minor amendments.
There was one delegation – the Marsden’s saying they had researched James Ridge the new manager and they approved of him.

City taxes for Burlington home owners will increase 3.64% over what they were last tear.

Dennison, on the left, explaining the budget to a resident.  will Dennison be back at council next term?  Not if the people in Roseland decide who is going to represent Ward 4 next term.

Dennison, on the left, explaining the budget to a resident. Dennison felt the revenue side of the budget could have been increased by $400,000.

The decision to adopt the budget was not unanimous – Councilor Dennison had wanted to add two revenue items – each worth $200,000 to the budget. His colleagues didn’t agree with him – so Jack decided he would not vote for the budget.

The city media release calls the 2015 operating budget one with a continued focus on ensuring cost effective service delivery, strategic investment in infrastructure and additional funding to address climate change events such as the ice storm and August 2014 flood.

2015 marks the first time the budget has been presented in a new service-based budget approach. Budget highlights include:

Aligning existing service delivery costs with inflation.

Not sure how an increase of 3.64% is described as aligned with inflation which is currently less than 2%

An additional $1.745 million of funding dedicated to the renewal of the city’s aging infrastructure
$4.5 million of funding for flood mitigation measures
$900,000 to expand transit service and increase support for Heritage, the Sound of Music Festival and the Art Gallery of Burlington.

“This budget is based on services rather than by departments. It gives a more transparent view of how tax dollars are invested and that is significant,” said Mayor Rick Goldring. “Once again, staff and City Council have found a way to balance the excellent quality of life we enjoy in Burlington with the long-term financial planning we rely on, all the while keeping taxes competitive with other municipalities.”

The Mayor chose not to mention that the twenty year forecast has tax increases at the 4% level for a long time.

The 2015 Budget includes a 3.64 per cent increase in the city’s portion of property taxes. When combined with Halton Region and the boards of education, the overall property tax increase is 2.06 per cent or $18.08 for each $100,000 of residential urban assessment.

That statement is true – but it is also very misleading. Burlington has zero impact on the education budget – that is set by the province. Burlington’s director of finance gets a number from the province and is told how much to collect and where to send it.

That statement about the overall property tax increase being  2.06%  is true - it is also very misleading.  Deliberately so?Not much different with the Region. Burlington sends seven people to the 21 member Regional Council. We have input, we have some sway – but not as much as Oakville, even though they have the same number of representatives on the Regional Council – they are just much more effective than the Burlington members.

Burlington’s city council is responsible for Burlington’s budget and it is that on which their performance should be measured.

It is confusing to give out a number that is not ours.

They used to call a person who gave out misleading information a “flim flam” man.

Telling people the tax increase is 2.08% more than it was the previous year is true – but we can’t take credit for that. We are responsible for the 3.64 % increase in our own spending.



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There is a serious transit service problem - and this council has yet to come up with a solution.

burlbudgetBy Staff

February 23, 2015


Members of Council ask questions of city staff. Both the questions and the answers are set out in public reports.

Here is a zinger for you.

Question: What is the approximate subsidy per passenger for transit?
Is it the 2015 net operating budget $9,314,989 divided by projected riders of 2,335.000 = $3.9 per ride?


Burlington Transit put their most festive bus into the parade.  The language doesn't matter - the message is still the same.

Burlington Transit put their most festive bus into the Santa Claus parade. The language doesn’t matter – the message is still the same. The issue fir transit is not public perception but more public use.

Conventional cost per ride for 2015 is projected to be $3.47 – based on 2,335,000 rides.

When the budget is approved at Council this evening a fare increase will be put in place – but it won’t cover the operating cost as shown in the information above.

Burlington has some deep thinking to do on just what it wants in the way of a public transit service.  Oakville has significantly different operating numbers than Burlington – fully understanding why is the transit Burlington faces.

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Council committee "miraculously" approves a budget in 3.5 hrs - now it goes to council for the rubber stamp

burlbudgetBy Pepper Parr

February 23, 2015

The creation of a municipal budget is complex – the work begins almost as soon as the previous budget is approved.

Each department sets out what it expects to need to deliver services.

There is an Executive Budget Committee that massages the numbers that come from the departments.

Joan Ford, Director of Finance - Finally!

Joan Ford, Director of Finance – Finally!

A draft is sent to Council members; the finance department takes council through an overview. Staff make sure all the Staff Directions from Council are included in the budget calculations.

Then the budget is taken to the public – this year poor publicity and bad weather did them in – there were a reported seven people in the room for a public review of the budget. There are usually close to 100.

The Capital budget usually gets approved first.

Council members are asked to review the budget and submit “Action Request’ forms which are requests by a Council member for consideration of a request for funding or for a request to have funding that was in the budget to be removed. There were a total of 25 budget action requests.

Councillor Rick Craven, centre, with a copy of the 2013 budget on a memory stick. Craven did a superb job of chairing the budget committee last year.  He will have no argument with candidate Henshell over the need for additional shopping facilities in Aldershot - getting themt there has been the challenge.

Councillor Rick Craven, centre, with a copy of the 2013 budget on a memory stick.

Councillor Craven had two; one for $600 to conduct another Jane’s Walk – which is basically a guided tour of the ward. Craven asked for the funds to cover this event as a one-time expenditure. He was given funds previously to conduct such a walk.

Craven also wanted $25,000 added to the base budget, which means the funding would be in place every year until such time as it was removed from the budget. The money was to cover the cost of a single park bench in each ward each year. The expense would be in the Parks and Recreation budget.

Where the debate on this one got interesting was the steps Councillor Meed Ward took to ensure that the decision as to where the park bench got placed was not left in the hands of the ward Councillor. The ongoing bad blood between Meed Ward and Craven was clearly evident – again.

What no one asked was – why does it cost $3000 to install a park bench?

Two years ago several council members got the idea to hold “car free”  Sundays in the city during the summer. The first was held in the downtown core and a second out in ward 5 where the event went quite well. The downtown core event was a total bust and wasn’t repeated the second year.

Councillor Lancaster got council to go along with a car free Sunday in her ward that went well enough. Held basically in the Alton community, a part of the city that is still finding itself, the event has the potential to create a sense of occasion in that part of the city.

Just hanging out on the street with the girls - a lazy summer afternoon in Alton Village.

Participants in the 2014 Car Free Sunday in Alton. These events look like they are here to stay.

So – for 2015 there will be a car free Sunday in wards 4, 5 and 6. A total of $10,000 was added to the base budget each year for these events.

Councillor Dennison, the only member of council with personal business operations of any size, always looks for ways to increase the business opportunities for the city. He has had his eyes on the Tyandaga golf course property for a long time. He wants the city to get out of the golf club business, arguing that there are more than enough private golf courses in the region (there are 9 in Burlington) and that the city doesn’t get real value for the money it pumps into the operation of Tyandaga.

Dennison will tell you that there is between $12 to $18 million to be had if some of the land was sold to a developer. When this was discussed last year Mayor Goldring referred to the selling of some of the golf club property as a “cash grab” – what was wrong with that? It would have paid for the pier embarassment.

Dennison withdrew his request and had the matter as something to be considered during the Strategic Plan discussions.

Dennison got Council to go along with one more cutting of the grass along the hydro corridors at a cost of $6000 The cutting would be done on a trial basis to see if the taxpayers thought it was a good improvement.

Dennison also tabled the idea of creating a services organization that would handle things like vehicle maintenance for both Hydro and the city. Burlington owns hydro – makes sense. It could make even more sense if transit was included. The idea got punted to the Strategic Plan review.
Jack Dennison does two things other Councillors don’t do – he at times “gets into the weeds” on issues. On one occasion we recall his telling a staff member some detail on the thickness of the wood in a building; he drives staff and his fellow council members bananas when he does this.

On the other hand Dennison is the Council member that comes up with the bigger bolder ideas; Tyandaga was one example.

This year he wanted to add $200,000 in revenue to the budget from what he was certain would happen – an increase in the investment returns the city earns. That one didn’t pass.

Ward 4 Councillor Jack Dennison always has an eye open for an economic opportunity - sees a great one for the city: sell the golf course.

Ward 4 Councillor Jack Dennison always has an eye open for an economic opportunity – sees a great one for the city: sell the golf course.

This year he also wanted to see $200,000 added to the revenue stream based on his belief that the number of building permits issued would be as strong in 2015 as they were in 2014. That one lost as well.

Trust Dennison to bring things like this up in 2016 when the budget is under consideration. And – you have not heard the last of Dennison’s attempt to sell some of that Tyandaga golf course property.

Councillor Lancaster seemed to be dumping on the cultural sector with her very pointed questioning of Dave Miller, Sound of Music chief, who wanted an increase in the base budget allocated to SoM each year.

Lancaster got Council to go along with a cost of living increase. Her concern with SoM is that it keeps growing – she wants it to remain basically the same but that if it does have to grow there be events outside the downtown core.

Lancaster, who used to have a business in the core, claims that restaurants do very well during the Sound of Music but that other retailers take quite a hit.

The Performing Arts Centre was down for $95,000 to cover the cost of student education. Lancaster thought this work could perhaps be done by the Student Theatre people.  Brian McCurdy, a man who knows how to protect his turf explained that by educating students the city is creating the arts audience of the future. He got his funding.

While Lancaster appeared to look like a bit of a cultural Grinch – it was her support, along with Meed Ward, that kept the Freeman Station in one piece while the community found a place to locate the structure where it is now being fully renovated.

It will be interesting to see if Lancaster can work with the Sound of Music to get some of the events up into the Alton community.

The “dean of city council” got clobbered during the creation of the 2015 budget. In both 2013 Councillor Taylor got well in excess of $75,000 for the BurLINKton community development program. The funds were to cover the staff that make the programs happen. In 2014 Taylor asked for the funding but only after promising to not ask for the funds a third time.


Taylor came close to having to beg to get the funding he wanted for the BurLINKton Community Development program.

This year he knew better than to ask for the funding he had been given previously – but he did ask for $10,000 as a “life line” to cover the organization until an expected grant comes in. Taylor came close to having to beg for the amount – he was literally jerked around by his fellow Councillors. Taylor saw the votes against him as “payback” for getting Meed Ward onto the Conservation Halton board.

Transit is always an issue when it comes to customer service and the price to ride the buses. An 8% drop in transit use from 2013 to 2014 reinforces the view of this council that no one wants transit – yet they continually talk about “improving the modal split” and getting people out of their cars.

The transit advocates claim the constant change in bus routes and schedules confuses the public and they give up on the service. More than $2 million is going to be spent on technology that will help transit understand who gets on the bus and who gets off the bus – the hope is that the data that comes out of the technology will result in service that meets the needs.

A glimpse as to how data can trip up the best of plans was seem when transit staff were explaining when taxi scrips had to be used to cover declines in HandiVan use. Turns out that if a person asks for a HandiVan pick up at a specific time – say 1:00 pm, to get to an appointment and the request cannot be met that is counted as a decline – the customer servioce request had to be declined – however if that same customer is told the HandiVan could pick them up at 1:15 the 1:00 pm request is still counted as a decline.

Meed Ward had asked that the $35,000 budgeted for taxi scrip funding last year and cancelled be put back into the budget to cover those “declines”. Bad data – bad decisions.

Meed Ward wanted to know what it would cost to re-instate the school specials – that was punted to the 2016 budget.

Meed Ward brought an interesting idea forward when she asked: what would it cost to create a free fare day one day a week for seniors? The idea got moved to the 2016 budget wen a business case will be presented.

You can see Meed Ward building her base for an expected run in 2018 for the Mayor’s job.

You can see Meed Ward building her base for an expected run for the Mayor’s job.The city has hundreds of bylaws and bylaw enforcement officers to tell you when you might be afoul of one of those bylaws. There are merchants in this city who know full well what the bylaws are but the will flout them on weekends nevertheless because they know there are no bylaw enforcement officers on duty weekends.

That might change – Meed Ward asked that a business case be prepared setting out what it would cost to have 24/7 and/or weekend evening bylaw coverage.

The creation of a budget by the city is a combination of things money has to be spent on and things the city would like to spend money on.

The construction of the Performing Arts Centre and the Pier were things the city wanted to spend money on. While Mayor Goldring ended up having the pier put around his neck like a rubber tire and then set ablaze – the decision to build the Pier belongs to former Mayor Rob MacIsaac and his Council of which Councillors Dennison and Taylor were members; Councillor Craven was a late comer to the pier issue

The collapse of a crane on the construction site brought to light significant problems with the design and the quality of the steel used. Those decisions were made long before Goldring was Mayor.

The Performing Arts Centre was very controversial when it was proposed and it went through two very awkward years once it was opened. Brian McCurdy was brought in to run the operation and he has done a superb job of improving attendance and bringing  in shows that the community wants – he has also done a fine job in making the space accessible to local performance groups.


A rapt audience listened to an overview of the 2014 budget.  What they have yet to have explained to them is the desperate situation the city will be in ten years from now if something isn't done in the next few years to figure out how we are going to pay for the maintenance of the roads we have.

A rapt audience listened to an overview of the 2014 budget. What they have yet to have explained to them is the desperate situation the city will be in ten years from now if something isn’t done in the next few years to figure out how we are going to pay for the maintenance of the roads we have.

There is within the municipal sector a movement to involve the public long before the first draft of the budget is worked out. Burlington isn’t there yet.

In the months ahead city council will begin looking at its Strategic Plan. There will be an opportunity then to look at governance matters and perhaps there will be some energy and effort from different community groups who want to see some real and relevant involvement in the fiscal affairs of the city.

Budget public meeting - empty hall

The public didn’t show up for the 2015 budget discussions. Seven people managed to make it to the event.

Until then your city council will play games with the numbers, let petty politics get in the way of doing what is best for the city. Thankfully there is a group of intelligent, committed people in the finance department to ensure that the city is financially sound.

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Council to set budget for 2015; some feisty delegations expected: Henshell, Muir and Marsden have asked to speak.

News 100 redBy Pepper Parr

February 22, 2015


Your city council will meet Monday evening to cast the 2015 budget in stone.

There will be a number of delegations; three that we have been made aware of should be interesting.

Katherine Henshell will be delegating about her concern over Aldershot’s Solid Gold Strip Club on Plains Road, the busiest street in Aldershot.

The Club borders on two residential neighbourhoods;
It has 6 – 8 hotel room doors which open on Plains Road and across from a residential community;
It has the largest square footage of any retail service business in Aldershot west of Francis Street;
It is located within 550 metres of Aldershot High School;
Children from grades 7 – 12 walk past the strip club to and from school everyday;
Children from grades 7 – 12 walk past the strip club to go to Wendy’s for lunch every day.

Solid Gold image

Adult entertainment – just a little too public for some.

Henshall adds that it shouldn’t not have to be said about the degradation of women and other issues which are additionally appalling about the operation of a strip club.

Henshell once played as goalie - she now plays defense.  Now wants to run interference on city council

Henshell once played as goalie – she now plays defense. Practices law and keeps a close eye on public morality.

Henshell said she was “ was driving home from Pizza Pizza (at King Road) one Friday evening with our family’s dinner and I noticed a few young children in girls’ soccer uniforms outside the Dairy Queen. It was a nice sight to see. Then I drive down Plains Road past the Strip Club and 3 – 4 strippers (wearing stripper’s outfits) were standing on the sidewalk on Plains Road waving the cars into the parking lot in broad daylight.

She continues: “I was immediately disturbed that those young soccer players might take the same route home and drive past the strippers as well. This shouldn’t happen in Burlington (or anywhere for that matter). (I telephoned the Halton Regional Police when I returned home and they indicated that they would look into it as they had also received other calls.”

Back in 2008 Councillor Craven said the owner of adult entertainment club Solid Gold wanted to move from Plains Road West but needs help finding a new location.

City had unanimously passed its new adult entertainment bylaw — the third version to come before politicians in more than a year — that relegates strip clubs to the city’s east side, in industrial spots. The bylaw replaced a two-decade old regulation considered long out of date.

Solid Gold dancers

Local entertainment talent – at the Solid Gold

“His exact words to me were”, said Craven “help me find a new location,” adding he will forward him a copy of the new bylaw. “I will encourage him at every opportunity to find an appropriate location in the city of Burlington.”

Craven said he is particularly happy with the passing of the bylaw — which he has said took too long to occur — as it brings fairness to the city.

This could be a lively discussion.

Tom Muir will be delegating about the Townsend Ave reconstruction and storm water system. The item was apparently approved in the Capital budget which surprised Muir who said; “ I have been under a misunderstanding about the Budget process. I have always thought that projects were not approved and funded until the year they have met all approval processes and are ready to construct. For the Townsend project, at two PICs, one in 2013 and another in 2014, residents were told that the project was not proceeding in those years because there was no money available.”

“Common to, and running through the substance of all these issues and concerns are matters of due process, transparency and accountability, answerability, and respect for citizen rights to open government and information.

TomMuir wants to see more transparency, accountability and answerability from city council. “Faced with this uncertainty on a way forward, and rather than remain silent, I want to provide some comments that reflect my personal experience with the city and Ward 1 Councilor approach to the Townsend Ave. reconstruction and storm sewer project. These comments are the basis for my subject request submission to revisit the project plan.”

Townsend Avenue runs parallel to and south of Plains road, the main artery through Aldershot. As such it has become the street traffic migrates to when the flow along Plains road gets thick.

Interestingly both Henshell and Muir are from Ward 1; Muir has been a thorn in the side of ward 1 Councillor Rick Craven; Henshell ran against Craven in the 2014 municipal election. Disclosure: Henshell represents the Gazette in the Libel matter with the Air Park.

Delegations at city council get five minutes to say their piece. On occasion there are questions from members of Council, more often than not there is a less than polite silence.

Survey click hereAdded to the delegation mix on Monday will be whatever Anne Marsden has to say. Mrs. Marsden was a candidate for the office of Mayor in the October election. She has recently filed a complaint with the Ontario Human Rights Commission over the limitations the city has imposed on her movements at city hall.

Marsden has a serious beef with the city administration over the limitations they have imposed on what she can do when she is at city hall. She has been told that she must report to a “single point of contact” at city hall who monitors her every move.

There appears to be a document that is known as the “Marsden protocol” which came out of either the City Solicitors office or from the City Clerk.

Marsden H&S with poppy

Anne Marsden has filed a complaint with the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal – wants the “Marsden Protocol” removed.

There is a serious lack of clarity on just what the document says – all we know is that it does exist. The Marsden’s are being rather cagey about the letter they received from the City Solicitor and have said they are not prepared to release the document at this point in time.

Anne Marsden has basically been banned from the Regional offices in Oakville. She can be difficult and at times strident. However there have been a number of occasions when Anne Marsden has been dead right.

Being a difficult person to work with is not reason enough to do what the city of Burlington is doing Anne Marsden. Her complaint to the Human Right Tribunal is going to be expensive for the city; what will the city do should the Tribunal side with Marsden? What will that do to our best mid-sized city in Canada?

Anne Marsden speaks out. Her complaints are at times unreasonable and they could be put forward in a different style,but she is a citizen and she deserves to be listened to – that is what we elected the seven people on Council to do – to listen to the voters and then use whatever wisdom they have to make decisions that are for the benefit of the people.

Martin Niemöller, a Lutheran Pastor, said in a poem he wrote in 1946, referring to the way the world has reacted to the persecution of Jews by the Germans in the Second World War:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Anne Marsden’s speaking out is protecting the right you have to speak out. It is not something you want to lose.
Monday should be quite an evening.

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City squeezes out a surplus of just over a quarter of a million- Mayor says finalizing a budget in less than three hours

burlbudgetBy Pepper Parr

February 20, 2015


In the commercial world the word they look for is profit – did we make a profit? Municipalities are not in place to make profits – they exist to provide services to tax payers and at the end of each fiscal year they end up with a surplus or, as Burlington’s Director of Finance, Joan Ford chooses to call them, a “favourable variance”. Municipalities cannot have a deficit.

Burlington had a surplus – oops – that is a favourable variance of $292,282. which is really very low. In the recent past there was a surplus of more than $9 million.

What happens to the surplus? It gets put into the Tax Stabilization Reserve fund – which Burlington treats as a ‘piggy bank’ they can turn to when they need funds.

Because municipalities cannot run with a deficit – what most people call a loss on operations – they create a series of Reserve funds that they draw down on when needed. There is a snow removal reserve fund that the city goes to if there is more snow to remove than expected.

Each year the city budgets for different services it provides. This year the city has moved to service based budgeting. In the past budgets were based on what the various city departments had to spend to provide services. A lot of time and effort was put into the creation of a totally different way of accounting for the funds collected and spent.

When Service Based Budgeting was first announced the public heard about Results Based Accountability and Business Process Management – these have become the new buzz words in municipal accounting.

Service based budgeting the new buzz words in municipal accounting.When this new approach was first announced Council did say they would produce the budget in both the old format and the new one – but that sort of got lost in the shuffle. Deliberate? Probably not – the finance people probably decided the benefit was not worth the effort required to put forward to sets of numbers – and, what if they turned out to be hugely different?

So – the tax stabilization funds has an extra quarter of a million in it and the city has a budget in place.

Some observations on how this budget got put together. There was a sense of rushing to get it completed. There were far fewer delegations this time around And very little public involvement in the capital budget which, given that there is a shortfall of millions on the maintenance of the infrastructure – basically roads. One would have thought there would be more public interest.

In the past Burlington has held a public session at which they explained their budget to the public. These events were traditionally held at the Art Gallery – the city decided to hold the meeting at the Mainway Recreational Centre on a night the weather was just terrible. The city reported that there were just seven members of the public in the room.

Budget public Angelo Benivenuto and Carol Gottlob

2014 election candidates Carol Gottlob and Angelo Bentivegna were two of the few that made it to the public discussion on the budget – neither asked any questions.

There were a couple of hundred people at the ice rink less than 25 yards away. My conclusion at the time was that the city had failed to promote the event enough – or no one really cared about the budget.

This Council does have a problem connecting with its public. It tends to rush issues; it is far too often very short with delegations. It is now a divided Council with three members tightly aligned with each other. Councillors Craven, Sharman and Lancaster almost vote as a block. Surprisingly Councillor Dennison votes with them – but not always.

That leaves the Mayor having to decide where he wants to land when it comes to voting; Taylor and Meed Ward tend to vote together.

This “split” is relatively recent – it will take a little longer to determine how entrenched views are and whether Mayor Goldring can bring about more in the way of harmony with the Council he leads.


The 2014 public budget session was close to a full house at the Art Gallery – the weather was much better that year and there were election candidates wanting to improve their profiles.

One of the things that cannot last for long in the world of politics is a vacuum – and there was, still is, a leadership vacuum.

Every member of this Council has been in place for four years – the split that is evident now was not evident before the October election. Something brought it about; some shift in the way people decided to behave has taken place.

How far this goes only time will tell – what is clear now however is that it is not healthy.

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Council committee adds $125,000 to 2015 budget - tax rate expected to be $19.10 for each $100,000 of assesment,

burlbudgetBy Staff

February 17, 2015


How much do they want to spend and how much are they going to tax you?

The city will take an additional 3.64 % more in 2015 than they did in 2014.

They added $125,000 to the 2015 budget – that will break down to $19.10 for each $100,000 of property valuation.

There was a total of $37,675 in one time spending added to the budget this year.

Survey click hereNext time out, which is in 2016, there might be a hint that money is needed for a new city hall – there was no heat in the council chambers so everyone packed things up and headed for the Centennial Room at the New Street Library.

Your Council spent 3 ½ hours running through the budget, tempers flared, differences of opinion were expressed and poor John Taylor kind of got clobbered again.

There is now a clear right wing cabal in place which, surprisingly get Councillor Dennison to go along with them.

Councillors Craven and Sharman are the core of this cabal and they inevitably get Councillor Lancaster to go along for the ride.

The power in this Council clearly lies with these three – the Mayor is at times seen as an add-on.

The Mayor did however, move the motion to approve the motion and send it along to council later in the month for approval.

He called the budget miraculous and commented that the 20 year long range plan, which every Council member and staff explained was an approximation, projected increases in spending that were two times the rate of inflation.

All in the future of course but once written down these things tend to take on a life of their own.

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Art Gallery passes GO with $140,000 in hand; is there some property to be sold on the Tax Stabilization fund Monopoly Board?

News 100 redBy Pepper Parr

February 10, 2015


The city’s Tax Stabilization fund got clipped for $140,000 this morning.

The Tax Stabilization find is the account that any surplus from the previous budget goes into. As of today there was an uncommitted balance of $4,003,163 so the $140,000 that was handed over to the Art Gallery of Burlington didn’t leave that much of a dent.

With the city budget about to be debated – why hand out $140,000 now? That amount is to cover the 2014 shortfall that was the result of a number of items. In their delegation to the Community and Corporate Services Standing Committee this morning Anne Swarbrick and Sandra Edrup set the financial scene.

BAC outdoors from the east side

Management problems prevailed in 2014.

In January 2015, Art Gallery of Burlington staff met with Mayor Goldring, Councilor Taylor, and the Director of Finance to discuss their financial challenges. They had spent more money than they had in the bank. The major factors contributing to this deficit include:

Lower participation rates than forecast in educational programs.
Lower corporate and membership results than targeted in enterprise programs including lower catering and room rental revenues and the cancellation of the Creativity Forum due to insufficient registrations.
Lower than targeted sales revenues from Art Inc.
Increased staffing costs as a result of the installation of the new HVAC system.

We understood the first three items – but we are really pressed to see the relationship between “increased staffing costs” and “the new HVAC system” but no one on Council saw this as a problem.

This request was in fact a done deal – the delegation was just to give the transfer of the $140,000 a sheen of legitimacy.

The possible reason for the $140,000 loss might be related to some degree to the firing of the former President and CEO of the Art Gallery of Burlington. In the pleadings to Council the AGB said:  “As a result of a combination of factors flowing from the issues referenced above, and re-organizational initiatives undertaken to correct them, the Gallery is currently undergoing a process in order to manage and plan for 2015 pressures.

They added: “As you will appreciate, the Board of Directors has increased their oversight of the AGB until such challenges can be resolved, including organizational review efforts that are now underway with the assistance of an excellent external consultant whom we have been able to recruit with no additional financial pressure on the organization’s resources

He had been with the art gallery for more than 15 years – suddenly he is gone.

There was no thank you, certainly no golden watch – but there appears, we are unable to confirm this, to have been a financial settlement which was not made public. Ross is gone, a search committee was created, advertisements were run, resumes received; the 35 that came in cut down to 9 out of which the Search Committee will settle on a short list of at least three.

Ann SWarbrick, former MPP in the Bob Rae government and now the executive Director of Habitata for Humanity lsitens attenbtively.

Ann Swarbrick, former MPP in the Bob Rae government and now the Interim President CEO of the Art Gallery of Burlington has shown she knows how to call in favours.

Interviews will take place in March; the search committee hopes to announce their choice in April.  Asked if there were going to be any woman on that short list and we were given “the look”: With Anne Swarbrick and Sandra Edrup on the search committee you know there is going to be at least one female on the list – even if it has to be a male that underwent a medical intervention.

In their delegation Swarbrick and Sandra Edrupt. Chair of the Board of Directors, said: “The Art Gallery is currently undergoing a change management process including reorganization initiatives to manage and plan for 2015 pressures.

The Art Gallery of Burlington has an accumulated deficit of $140,000 from their 2014 operations which represents 5.7% of their total 2014 operating budget of $2,453,450. The city gave the AGB a grant of $790,685 in 2014.

The AGB Foundation has allocated $160,500 to the gallery to support the 2015 programs, which will leave the Foundation with a balance in their reserve fund of approximately $65,000. These funds are ear marked for non-recurring and known costs they will face in 2015.

The gallery itself does not have a reserve – which is skating on pretty thin ice.

The financials given to the Standing Committee that approved the $140,000 payment for the 2014 shortfall looked like this:


                                                                    Year-end       Budget
City of Burlington – Operating Grant                 790,685         790,685
Provincial funds
Ontario Arts Council                                         47,500            50,000
-Ontario Trillium Fund                                         4,508
Federal funds
Human Resource Canada                                   2,518                3,000

Earned Revenues
Education Fees                                                 272,485         346,000
Art Etc Gallery Shop                                         525,737         660,500
Rental, Events, Memberships                            438,107          355,765
AGB Foundation Grant                                     158,500          158,500
AGB Foundation/OAC Foundation                      23,695           15,000

AGB Foundation/BCFoundation                      13,111
TOTAL REVENUES                                    2,276,846      2,379,450

Exhibitions                                                                    206,640        214,490
Education and Outreach                                                286,408        316,777
Enterprise/Marketing                                                     331,433        172,751
Art Etc Gallery Shop                                                     497,865        566,520
Administration                                                               365,893        402,084
Occupancy and Maintenance                                         728,563        706,828

TOTAL EXPENSES 2,416,802 2,379,450
Net deficiency of revenue over expenditures                   (139,956)

The numbers tell the story.  Fail to meet the objectives and there is always that Tax Stabilization to save the day.  The prime question is – why did it take so long to see where the damage was being done?

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