City launches its new approach to the creation of a budget - public misses the opportunity to ask questions.

burlbudgetBy Pepper Parr

February 3, 2015

BURLINGTON, ON

It wasn’t the best show in town and it certainly wasn’t the only show in town but it was a solid presentation by city hall staff that explained how they want to tax you and how they plan to spend the tax money they collect.

The only public open house on the budget took place on a typical Canadian winter night when the hockey rink next door was full but the town hall meeting was close to empty.

Staff explained that the purpose of the workshop was to inform about the proposed 2015 budget, process. Budgeting is really about planning. The city must balance the provision of quality services while maintaining property taxes at a reasonable and affordable rate. Decisions are made that directly relate back to our community functions and services that Burlington residents receive. Developing the city’s capital and operating budgets requires managing events happening today and preparing for events five, ten and more years away.

Public participation is essential since a municipal budget is more than just numbers. The City of Burlington continuously looks for ways to improve on and increase their transparency efforts to improve public confidence and increase public engagement with the City.

The first, and only public meeting on the 2015 budget didn’t get us very far down the engagement road – blame the weather?

No point in beating that horse – it’s dead.

Budget 2015 Traditional - transformative

The city moved from a departmental approach to financial management to one that focuses on the service being delivered. Ideally the taxpayers will be able to relate what is being spent to what thy are getting. We aren`t there yet.

Through the magic of the internet – you can log into the Gazette and read it all when it is convenient.
The city is taking a new approach to the way it accounts for what it spends. In the past budgeting was done on a departmental basis. The practice is now going to have budgets built around the service provided.
That is going to mean significant change at the department level – in the past each department worked in a silo – each department doing their thing. The city created a “portfolio” of services – an approach that sets out all the things they do for the public and group work done by the different departments under each service.

Budget 2015 List of services

The services the city delivers fall into six categories – one of which is internal.

 

Budget 2015 Why they are doing this

The city wants the public to see that they are getting value for the taxes they are paying with an engaged city hall staff and a satisfied taxpayer. Let`s see how well this works out.

Why is the city doing all this?
They want both staff and the people paying the tax bills to know what they are getting for their money. The ‘information age’ has created a public that wants to know more and expects to be kept informed. They city wants the public to see the taxes they pay as part of a value chain that is made up of engaged city employees and satisfied customers.

Everything is centered around the services the city delivers. City hall attaches three questions to everything they do:

How much did we do?
How well did we do it?
Is anyone better off?

A question they don’t put out but one that is nevertheless critical to city hall is: Should we be providing this service and should we be allocating funds to cover the cost of the service?

Budget 2015 Services at the centre of it all

Everything is now centered on the services being delivered. The numbers are supposed to let the public see what they are paying for the service they are getting.

The change is going to take some time to work itself into the fabric of how staff perform. This approach to managing the way a municipality spends tax money isn’t new. Former city manager Jeff Fielding brought the idea with him – got it started and then left for Calgary where he now works for a Mayor who has been named the top Mayor in the world.

Fielding put together a team that loved the idea and they’ve done a fine job delivering on the promise. The new approach to managing the money collected is combined with a significantly better web site that offers much more information that is relevant. The old version of the web site was terrible.

Another feature in the new approach is ownership of a service. The public will know which staff member is responsible for the efficient delivery of a service. That will create a little indigestion for some staff. “You mean I’m responsible for delivery efficiently, effectively and within budget” are words that get muttered on occasion by some staff.

Budget 2015 Continuous improvement

The objective is to be able to continuously improve and implement changes where they are seen to be needed.

There are a bunch of guys at city hall who are expected to try – once again – to come up with the details for “smart” parking meters. The first two requests for proposals got withdrawn.

So we know they aren`t perfect.  The Results Based Accountability (RBA) is a good step in a new, sensible direction being managed by a team of smart people.  Let`s see how well they do this first time around.

While all this “doing the numbers differently” is taking place – the city should have a new city manager in place before the end of the month.

In a previous piece on the creation of yet another interim city manager the Gazette erroneously said that city solicitor, Nancy Shea Nicol, the latest interim, reported to Scott Stewart the only General Manager the city has left and who is a finalist for the post of city manager.

Shea-Nicol reported to the previous interim city manager – how she now reports to herself boggles the mind.

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Pathetic turnout for public meeting on the budget - wasn't the weather - rink next door drew the hockey parents.

burlbudgetBy Pepper Parr

January 30th, 2015

BURLINGTON, ON.

Was it the weather?

Maybe people didn’t know about the meeting?

Maybe they don’t care?

Budget public meeting - empty hall

Ten minutes before the only public meeting on the 2015 city budget was to start this is what the room looked like. About ten people showed up. Mayor was there but he didn’t stay long enough to take his coat off.

All three questions came from General Manager Infrastructure and Development Scott Stewart as he looked around a room that has less than five people ready to listen to a public presentation on the 2015 budget.

Budget public Mayor with his coat on BEST

Mayor doesn’t stay at budget meeting long enough to take his coat off.

There were more than ten staff members. Except for Councillors Lancaster and Taylor everyone else was in the room. Mayor Goldring didn’t stay long enough to take off his coat – no photo op here he must have concluded.

As presentations go – it was as good as it gets.

City staff have done a lot of excellent work bringing forth a much different way of creating their budget and producing a document that is much easier to understand.

Staff had hoped to go on line from the Mainway Recreation Centre and take people through a demonstration of the flashy new city web site – but the access they needed wasn’t apparently available.

Budget public Angelo Benivenuto and Carol Gottlob

Political hopefuls Carol Gottlob and Angelo Benevenuto attended the 2015 budget presentation

Bentivegna

The Gazette will do a detailed follow up piece with all the graphs and charts that help people understand what the tax collector is going to do with the money you send them.

Budget public parent on stairs at ice rink

The weather didn’t keep hundreds of parents away from a hockey game at the Mainway Recreation centre right next door to where the budget for 2015 was being explained.

As to why there weren’t at least 100 people in the room – well it could have been the weather – but the crowd at the arena right next door tells you it wasn’t weather.

Don’t they give a damn? They might if they knew about the event. City hall still doesn’t have that ability to reach out and touch its public.

Because when it matters – the public does show up. Back in 2011 more than 400 people packed the same room – they didn’t want any kind of highway going through the Escarpment and they were in that room to make sure they were both heard and understood.

Maybe, wondered Scott Stewart, they are just happy and satisfied with the job we are doing for them?

We didn’t realize that Scott Stewart knows how to dream in Technicolor.

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Public gets to hear what the city wants to set the tax rate at - thinking upwards of 3.5% more than last year.

burlbudgetBy Pepper Parr

January 28, 2015

BURLINGTON, ON

It is that time of year again – when the city sets out what they want to take from your wallet – they call it taxes.

The setting and the approach to this interaction with the public will be considerably different this year. The locale will be the Mainway Recreation Centre –  where there is quite a bit more room; things were getting a bit tight at the Art Gallery.

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 will be the obligatory budget overview.

There will be a demonstration of the Burlington Open Budget visual application.

There will be a table top exercise – that’s when participants get to think about some of the specifics in the budget that was explained and make comments on the different initiatives the city is proposing

This is the year the city moved to budgeting based on the services provided rather than planned spending by departments. The city has a handful of acronyms; RBA – Results Based Accountability is the one that they seem to favour.

When the city wants to provide a new service there has to be a business case made – the public will get to hear what some of the business cases are this year.

Vanessa Williams + Woodruff Budget meet

Vanessa Warren and Ken Woodruff going through the pages of the workbook at the 2014 budget review.

In the past the city has used small hand held clickers – sort of like a TV remote control. Data is put up on a screen and people are asked to use the clickers to indicate which of the options given they prefer.

While all this data gathering is interesting – the basics of the budget have already been determined. City staff have been working on the document for months – the broad strokes are in place – what the public is being asked to do at this point is comment on what has been done – but there is no real opportunity to shape the city’s financial plan.

Vanessa Warren, one of the founders of the Rural Burlington Greenbelt coalition and a candidate for the ward 6 seat which Blair Lancaster won for the second time in October, commented at the last public review of the budget that “none of the remarks made at the only public meeting being held on the budget would be available before delegations were made.” Warren wanted more information and wanted it sooner so comments could have a real impact.

It was at the 2014 review that John Birch tried to hi-jack the event and get in his pitch for funding of the LaSalle Park Marina; his efforts drew howls of derision. Hopefully the event facilitator will keep a tighter rein on where speakers go with their comments.

With a little luck the evening will see a demonstration of the city’s new web site. What we’ve seen so far appears to be a significant improvement over what has been in place for the last five years. Atrocious is an apt word to describe what the public has had to put up with.

A smart, savvy crew has done some solid work – the peak we had at the web site was good. Let’s see if the follow up is as good.

Thursday – at the Mainway Recreation Centre – 7:00 to 9:00 pm. It will be different this year.

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Wither city hall: Is there a new one in the cards; part of a real vision perhaps?

SwP thumbnail graphicBy Pepper Parr

January 19, 2015

BURLINGTON, ON.

The city did another photo opportunity last week.

City Hall BEST aerial

Opened in 1965, expanded later the structure no longer meets the space needs of the city. Are there real plans for a replacement? There is a report being worked on that sets out the needs and the possibilities.

The occasion was to commemorate the 50th anniversary of City Hall’s opening as the Civic Administration Building in 1965. A plaque was unveiled telling of the founding of Burlington.

The brief ceremony took place on one of the coldest days of the year when Wayne Kelly, Manager of Public Education and Community Development at the Ontario Heritage Trust delivered some remarks. Residents were invited to attend the event.

It is doubtful if there was any mention of how inefficient the building is or that it can’t hold all the people the city employs.

The Gazette didn’t cover the event – this Council didn’t need another photo opportunity.

City Hall in fall from south

The building was a big deal back in 1965 – today it is too small and inefficient.

What we are waiting for is the report that has been moving from desk to desk at city hall on the study of what the city has in the way of space it either owns or rents and what it is going to need in the way of space for the next 20 years.

The city currently rents space in the Sims building on the south side of Elgin where Human Resources, Finance, Purchasing, Legal and Capital Infrastructure beaver away on your behalf.

At one point it looked like the report was going to be made public before the election. Keeping that information away from the public was a smart political move and it maintained the practice of being opaque rather than transparent alive and well.

Former city manager Jeff Fielding had all kinds of ideas about where a city hall should be located and, had he stayed and completed his contract, there would have been all kinds of activity – that was just the way Fielding worked.

The file has been in the hands of the Capital Infrastructure people – once Council decides on who they want as a city manager it might see the light of day. For the time being the best citizens are going to get is some words from Wayne Kelly about how the city hall we have now came to be.

werv

The Sims building is more efficient than city hall.  The city has leased space in the structure for some time; paid enough in rent  argues Councillor Jack Dennison to have paid for the thing.

The lease on the Sims building is due for renewal this year. There will probably be a short term lease renewal while the city gets its act together. The owner of the Sims building will push for a bit more than a short term renewal; they need the city as a tenant – at least until the Economic Development Corporation brings a company to town that will hire people for those high-tech, high paying jobs the city drools about having.

Hive on Elizabeth

The HiVe, one of the smartest ideas to settle in the downtown core has found that its costs are more than its revenue – they plan to move. The support they could have and should have gotten from the city just didn’t appear.

Meanwhile The Hive over on Elizabeth Street, one of the smarter ideas to settle in the downtown core, has found that the rent they have to pay is more than the revenue they are bringing in – so they will be leaving the core and looking for digs that are less expensive.

None of this got mentioned during the plaque unveiling or while people were enjoying the refreshments at city hall.

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How will the Mayor lead his Council after they trashed his board and committee appointment recommedations?

News 100 redBy Pepper Parr

January 8, 2015

BURLINGTON, ON

City council will meet for the first time this year on Monday morning of next week to review the first draft of the 2015 budget.

It will be interesting to watch how Mayor Goldring manages to bandage the wounds that were inflicted when the council he leads trashed the recommendations he made on appointments to Boards and Committees.

Mayor and chair

Does Mayor Goldring now lead a Council that is headed for a string of 4-3 votes with Councillor Dennison being the swing vote. Has it really come to this?

Those recommendations were not something the Mayor scribbled on the back of an envelope and gave to the Clerk. They were the result of discussion with every member of council.

While the Mayor has just one vote, he is seen as the first among equals. Citizens expect him to lead and he certainly led when he put together his list.

That his Council trashed his recommendations and put forward three amendments that stripped Councillor Meed Ward of much of her board and committee work is disturbing to say the least. There is the very real possibility that the Mayor will be seen as a lame duck the first month into his four year term.

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Councillor John Taylor may not be waving the draft of the 2015 budget – but he will be guiding it through the Standing Committee he chairs.

The budget meeting will be chaired by Councillor Taylor with Meed Ward serving as his vice chair. Taylor at times struggles with detail but he will remember the 18th of December meeting when he was recognized by the provincial government for his 26 years of service.

He will also remember the meeting as the one that stripped Meed Ward of Board and Committee appointments that she wanted to continue doing.

It was also the meeting that had Taylor giving up his appointment to the Conservation Authority so that Meed Ward could serve there.

There is every reason to expect her to become a solid council representative at the Conservation Authority but it will be sometime before she can amass the knowledge Taylor has; losing him at Conservation is a significant loss.

As for Council meetings – we may be looking at a level of fractiousness we have not seen since the Cam Jackson days; that fractiousness was one of the reasons –Rick Goldring ran for Mayor in 2010.

What comes around goes around – maybe Cam Jackson wasn’t the problem after all.

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Budget for 2015 includes a Shoreacres character study for $60,000. Is there value for money here?

burlbudgetBy Pepper Parr

January 4, 2015

BURLINGTON, ON.

They are called Character Area studies; exercises where planners and residents meet to talk about what kind of a community they want.

In the past few years Burlington has done two of these: one in the Roseland community where the exercise is still underway and a second at Indian Point where the exercise was wrapped up.

Shoreacres map

A part of the city that is rich in history Shoreacres may get a serious look at what it is and what it wants to be as part of the Official Plan Review.

There is a Business Case in the 2015 budget for a third Character study for the Shoreacres community. Priced at $60,000 this study is part of the Official Plan review and came out of a Staff Direction.

This community has deep history – more so than Roseland. Both communities have been hit by what many refer to as predator developers who purchase older buildings on large lots; demolish the building and apply for a variance to divide the lot and put up two houses.

While many in the community regret the sale of what are seen as prime historical properties for every buyer there is a willing seller.

The Paletta Mansion is within the Shoreacres boundaries. Originally deeded to Laura Secord, who never lived on the property, the magnificent house was saved from destruction when purchased by the city. The Paletta family donated a large sum and had the house and park area named after them.

The Indian Point Character Study was wrapped up when the Planners came to the conclusion that the residents were so badly divided on a direction for the community that nothing could be achieved.
Indian Point has a rich history as well with large lots that cluster around the lake and Indian Creek.

These Character studies give residents of a community the opportunity to decide collectively what they want their community to look like and what they would like to see preserved. The people who live at Indian Point couldn’t arrive at any kind of consensus. The rank greed on the part of several participants during the Indian Point meetings was unsettling. It was difficult to see much in the way of community at those meetings.

Shoreacres creek - prefab bridge

A per-fabricated bridge is installed over Shoreacres Creek.

The Roseland character study meetings have been more civilized – close to genteel actually. But it has taken a long time and there isn’t yet a clear sense yet as to where the community wants to go.

What is clear in Roseland is the desire to see fewer demolitions which the majority seem to not want.
However, the ward Councillor has an Ontario Municipal Board hearing coming up in March at which he is appealing a Committee of Adjustment decision to not permit a re-zoning application to sever his Lakeshore Road property.

What Councillor Jack Dennison is doing would appear to be at odds with what the community says it wants – but they re-elected Dennison by a respectable majority.

Burlington is clearly struggling with its character as a city. There is work to be done.

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First look at the 2015 budget: Proposing 3.55% increase for 2015

Newsflash 100By Pepper Parr

December 23, 2014

BURLINGTON, ON.

 

The city released the draft version of the operating budget for 2015 – it amounts to a 3.55% increase over the previous year.

The gross budget of $216.1 million for 2015 will result in a net tax levy of $139,912,648 – this includes $4.8 million that is levied to pay for the Joseph Brant Hospital Redevelopment Project.

$517 million for expanded new businessThere are a number of Business Cases made for increased funding, which is included in the draft budget.

The Gazette will pour over the budget during the holidays and provide detail on a service by service basis as well as detail the several business cases put forward.

The draft budget was delivered to members of Council this afternoon.

Local boards and committees request $155 million in2015 budget.Giving the obstreperous tone at the last Council meeting – the budget deliberations could be tense. Councillor Taylor who referred to members of Council as the “gang of four” will chair the budget deliberations which begin on January 12th with a Community and Corporate Services Committee meeting where an Overview and a review of the 2015 proposed current budget.

That event will be followed by a Council Information session on January 21st and then a Public Consultation at the Mainway Arena on January 29th from 7:00 to 9:00 pm

On February 11th the Community and Corporate Services Committee will hear public delegations on the proposed current budget.

On February 17th and 19th the budget committee will review and approve the current budget after which it will go to Council for approval on February 23rd.

At the Council meeting on December 18th the city passed a bylaw approving an interim tax levy. The city sends out tax bills four times a year and cannot collect more than 50% of the tax levy with the first tax bill. Tax bills cannot be sent out until there is a specific by law passed by Council.

Tax bills are sent out in February and April followed by tax bills in June and September.

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Council members will be looking for time to go over the first cut of the 2015 budget during the holidays.

burlbudgetBy Pepper Parr

December 15, 2014

BURLINGTON, ON.

 

There will be some heavy reading for the newly elected Council. Director of Finance Joan Ford is going to deliver a copy of the Budget book to Council members December 23rd. It is usually a thick publication.

wervbg

Citizens meeting at the Art Gallery and going over a budget that has basically been decided.  Burlington’s version of citizen engagement.

The Budget book will come in two versions; one based on the format used previously and another in the new Service Based Budget format that will focus on Results Based Accountability.

The city has done two surveys – asking people what they want in the way of services and what they are prepared to pay. There was a survey done with the members of the Insight Panel and another that could be answered by anyone who was prepared to take the time to go through the document.

Getting a grip on what the public wants and what the city can afford to spend is the challenge this year. In the past we heard Mayor Goldring put out a number on what he wanted to keep the tax rate increase at – he’s not said anything about what he wants to see for 2015.

At a previous meeting of the Corporate and Community Services Committee the Mayor did mention that “we are in the ditch to the tune of $2 million”.

Joan Ford, the city's Director of Finance knows where every dollar comes from and where every dollar gets spent.

Joan Ford, the city’s Director of Finance knows where every dollar comes from and where every dollar gets spent.  When the money she needs is not forthcoming – she refers to that as an “unfavourable variance”.

Director of Finance Joan Ford came back with a reply that only an accountant working for a bureaucracy would utter: Ford explained that the amount was not $2 million but $1.8 million and that it was an “unfavourable variance”.

Try that one in the private sector.

The shortfall is the result of delays in getting funds from the province to cover the cost of cleaning up after the ice storm LAST Christmas. The public sector does move at a different pace.

The early version of the claim the city was making on the province was for $2.9 million which included money spent by the Regional government. There was apparently a conversation between the city and the Region – suggesting perhaps that the Region do their own paper work?

It has been the city’s practice to hold a public meeting after the budget was basically set. A slick booklet was prepared for those taking part in the public meeting, usually held at the Art Gallery of Burlington.

City hall staff now realizes that the Burlington boundary doesn’t stop at the QEW and is looking into the possibility of holding public meetings at Tansley Woods and or at the Haber Recreation Centre.

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Regional government is setting up its Civic reference panel - looking for public input on future direction.

Regional Flag with Canada flagBy Pepper Parr

December 9, 2104

BURLINGTON, ON

 

Marketing organizations and local governments want to know what you think.

In the case of the marketing types – we know their game – they want to sell us something.

With local government – the game isn`t the same. As far as they are concerned – you are already a customer and you aren`t going to the competition – because there isn`t any.

Regional aerial

Regional government offices at one end of the complex, Regional police at the other end.

Halton Region creates a panel of 36 people each year and runs a series of questions by the panel,

The Regional government holds a “civic lottery” Lottery to find 36 local residents to form a Citizens’ Reference Panel. Invitations to form the panel were mailed to residents across the Region last week. Panel members will help determine which issues, services and programs matter most to the people who live and work in Halton.

Their insights, along with input from the broader community, will help the newly elected Regional Council develop a strategic work plan and set out priorities for the next four-year term.

Calling the Regional Council now in place “newly elected” is true but a bit of a stretch – of the 21 members of Regional Council only three are new to that level of government.

Same people – they will probably arrive at the same conclusions.

Regional Carr explains how the panel works. “Every four years Council works in consultation with stakeholders to gather feedback on the areas that matter most to Halton residents and businesses.

“Members of the Citizens’ Reference Panel have a unique opportunity to hear directly from Halton staff and local experts. Armed with a solid understanding of Regional services and processes, Panelists play an invaluable role in helping to shape the future of Halton Region.”

A Civic Lottery uses random selection to bring together groups of residents, balanced for age, gender and geographical location, to represent their community. Last week 10,000 letters were delivered to randomly selected households in the City of Burlington, the Town of Halton Hills, the Town of Milton and the Town of Oakville. Eligible candidates who receive the invitation can put their name forward for the Civic Lottery. The invitation can also be transferred to other members of the household. The 36 Panelists will be randomly drawn from among the respondents on January 8, 2015. The deadline for eligible candidates to enter the Civic Lottery is January 7, 2015.

As part of this process, the Region has prepared a draft Strategic Action Plan to serve as a starting point. The Panel will meet over two full Saturdays on January 17 and January 31. The Panel will also meet on the evening of Wednesday, January 21 for a special Public Roundtable Meeting to which all Halton residents are invited.

Together, the Panelists will learn about the trends and pressures facing Halton Region as well as the services and programs the Regional government provides. As part of this process, the Region has prepared a draft Strategic Action Plan to serve as a starting point. The draft document will guide the discussion and assist in the development of specific, measurable actions that can be implemented over the next four years.

At the end of the process, working with expert facilitators, the Panelists will develop a series of informed recommendations to present to Regional Council.

Burlington uses a different approach – they put a survey on line and ask people to tell them what they like and don’t like in terms of the services the city provides for the tax money they pay.

Related article:

Burlington community survey

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What do you want to pay for with your taxes? City hall wants to know.

News 100 redBy Pepper Parr

December 9, 2014

BURLINGTON, ON

 

The City of Burlington is asking Burlington’s property owners, business owners and renters to complete an anonymous online survey to tell the city what services matter most.

“We have identified all of the services the city provides and have refocused our budgeting to show citizens the investments we are making into each service,” said Joan Ford, the city’s director of finance.

“We are looking to the community for input on the importance and value of services.”

OK - so you did not vote - you can still tell city hall what matters to you.Starting in 2015, the city is using a new system to budget and has 24 public services and 13 internal services to help provide efficient, effective services to the community. Those services include road and sidewalk maintenance, fire protection and transit.

“The City of Burlington must make thoughtful choices among competing priorities to deliver good service for good value,” said Mayor Rick Goldring. “Using our Insight Burlington online community panel, and an anonymous survey connected to that panel, we hope to hear more about the services people in Burlington value.”

The Insight Burlington survey will take from 10 to 15 minutes to complete.

It is available from now until December 19 at www.burlington.ca/whatmatters.

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What will council set out to do during its next term of office? How soon will the public learn just how much the August flood is going to cost? Will it take a tax increase to get anything done?

backgrounder 100By Pepper Parr

November 18, 2014

BURLINGTON, ON.

 

We did elect them – well 34. 14 % of us did. In twelve days the newly elected council will get sworn in and determine what they want to achieve in the next four years.

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Full team was returned to office.  Now they need to get down to work.  Long list of tasks and opportunities.

Now that the significant seven have all been returned to office – what do they have on their plates for the immediate future and perhaps for the length of their term of office which officially starts December 1 when they are all sworn in. A stronger sense of enthusiasm and drive would be nice

Mayor Goldring explained to us during the election campaign that his first term was a “cleanup/setup” operation. He didn’t explain what he had cleaned up and he hasn’t clarified yet what he means by “set up”. We wait to hear that story.
A partial list of the issues facing this Council includes:

Airpark aerial used by the city

The city now has a site plan application. Will they approve what has been submitted and provide a permit?

Air Park – what does the city want to do with it? The city now has a site plan application in hand.  Once it is reviewed they will decide if a permit should be issued.  Bu what is the long term plan for the air park and is the city going to be able to get the cooperation it needs from Rossi?

Beachway – while the homes in that part of the city – just to the west of Spencer Smith Park are not about to be expropriated – city hall is reported to be beavering away at plans and designs that will come forward at some point in this term of office. One wonders when the public will be invited to the planning

Downtown development: Always an issue in Burlington – which in itself is telling. When we get a downtown one wonders if we will recognize it.

Football from Norh end - both streets

Major development opportunity in the Old LAkeshore precinct. Huge developments underway. How will it all play out during this term of office.

Old Lakeshore precinct – sometime this year work will start on the Bridgewater project that is to consist of a 22 storey condo, a seven story condo and an eight storey hotel. The hotel was to be open for the Pan Am Games but that won’t happen. Is there any thinking being done as to what the long term vision is for the properties between Lakeshore Road and Old Lakeshore Road and that part of the waterfront?

Ranked voting: Mayor Goldring kind of liked that idea. Let’s see when he moves to bring it forward now that the province has said it is to be permitted. The only member of the current Council who would have been impacted by Ranked Voting would have been Blair Lancaster – but if you look at who placed second and third – Lancaster suddenly doesn’t look all that bad.

Size of Council. Sometime during this term of office the Regional government will realign its seats and probably give more to Milton. That “might” mean a change in the number of seats Burlington has on the Regional Council. Right now Burlington has seven regional seats which makes every City Council member a Regional Council member as well. Half of a Council member’s income is paid by the Region

Governance: The Council whose term ends the morning of December 1st developed a good approach to Governance and devoted one meeting every quarter to looking and talking about the way they were running the city. There was some very productive work done at those meetings – let’s hope they are continued.

 

City General Manager scott Stewart doesn't take this smile to hospital meetings.

Does current  City General Manager Scott Stewart have a change in the title on his business card in the works – or will the moving trucks be getting a call.  Scott has kept the city running for the past six months.

 

A new city manager and an overhaul of the senior ranks. The task of hiring a new city manager is underway. Burlington is seen as one of the better city’s to run and we will be a popular choice for some of the better people out there. The last time this city hired a new City Manager they brought in Jeff Fielding from London who was energetic and had more new projects going than staff could keep up with. His decision to head for what he thought were greener pastures in Calgary put a lot of new ideas into a tail spin and staff had to scramble to work without the drive and focus Fielding brought to everything he did.

He fortunately had Scott Stewart beside him to execute on most of the ideas. Stewart was in the running for the job of City Manager last time and has his hat in the ring this time around as well. If Stewart doesn’t get the nod this time – you can expect him to be making an appointment with a moving company. The guy has been holding the city together for the past three months.

Citizen Engagement. Engaging the community is theoretically what every city hall is supposed to do. Burlington didn’t do all that well on that level. When Cam Jackson asked the late John Boich and former Mayor Walter Mulkewich to lead research into just what was needed to better engage the people who pick up the tab, few expected the report that was produced. Shape Burlington shook up many at city hall who felt they were unfairly picked on which was quite telling.

Some of the senior staff at the time felt they knew what the public needed and that the public didn’t need to be engaged all that much.

When the Shape Burlington report was released there was some hope – but a closer look at the people who served on that committee was revealing – Paul Sharman and Blair Lancaster were on the Shape Burlington Committee and withdrew when they decided to run for office. They were certainly not champions of involving the public during their first term of office but both got re-elected.

Code of conduct: While the Mayor likes to talk about how well this Council functions – in truth it doesn’t function all that well. The Councillors for wards 1 and 2 can’t stand each other – which makes it awkward for them because they sit beside each other.
Councillor Taylor, because of his experience, has a vision of the city and where he thinks it should go that is quite different than that of his colleague ward 4 Councillor Jack Dennison who has served more than 20 years on Council.

These two old timers (that’s intended as a compliment) never did share a common view of the city and the direction it should take. Taylor tends to work from strongly held principles – for Dennison its all about business.

One would like to think they would serve as the institutional memory for Council and while they both know where all the skeletons are buried they seldom put forward much in the way of long term thinking for the city. Councillor Taylor has done some excellent work with his Mt Nemo initiative but that has yet to bear any fruit. The city is spending $200,000 to determine if a heritage district is worthwhile.

Water Street property. This Council is going to have to make a decision soon on just what they will actually do with that stretch of property between St. Paul and Market Streets. They did vote in principal to sell the property subject to the price to be paid and some legal questions that have to be resolved.

Mike Swartz, spokesperson for the other two property owners, commissioned a report on the evolution of the property including the arrangements that were made for the building of the breakwater and the infill that was put in place to prevent natural erosion.
The report includes the Swartz version of the legal arguments that hound this issue. A concern for many is that the report Swartz commissioned will be used by Council to justify their original decision but because it is legal in nature the city’s solicitor might advise that it be kept under wraps. It would appear that the document is certainly germane to the issue – it should be made public if it informs the debate.

The citizen based Waterfront Committee has taken issue with how this matter has been handled and asked for an investigation on the way the city handled this issue. The Municipal Act allows for any person to request that an investigation be undertaken respecting whether a municipality, local board, or a committee of either, has complied with the closed meeting rules contained within section 239 of the Act. Municipalities are able to appoint an Investigator for the purpose of examining these closed meeting complaints.

A request was made last June – at this point the city Clerk’s office said they have yet to get the report. Might be a can of worms with this one

Taylor with Black smiling

Georgina Black got Burlington to the point where it produced the best Strategic Plan possible under the circumstances. Will Council now move forward with a plan that has both a vision and drive?

Strategic Plan. The city put together a pretty good Strategic Plan in 2011. It was limited mostly because of the inexperience of the Council at that time. Given that it will be the same tribe creating the Strategic Plan for the next four years we can expect a shorter time frame to get the document done and a better final document.

Georgina Black of KPMG led Council through the 11 half day exercise. She realized part way through the second session with a group that consisted of both senior staff and council that there wasn’t what she called a BHAG – a big hairy audacious goal – something the city wanted to do.

Burlington doesn’t have a vision; it doesn’t have a goal – what it does have is many groups with goals of their own but nothing that the city can get a grip on and work towards.

Mayor Goldring did make an effort in the first half of his first mandate to pull people together and figure out what we wanted to be when we grew up. That event was as close to a disaster as you can get without being called a failure. The Mayor never produced a report for an event that came in at $50,000. It was all private sector money.

Official Plan: A critical document for the city. Frequently a bit of a yawn – not this time. Burlingtonians are demanding that we have a plan that we stick to and not change at every developers whim
Outstanding Development: Eagle Heights in Aldershot; Tremaine and Dundas in the north east end and Upper Middle Road at Burloak in the east centre part of town. All three are major development opportunities.

Economic Development: Where are we on this file? What defines us? Have we created a niche – something are better at than others and are thus attractive to corporations looking for a new location. Have we gotten beyond that tired phrase: the best mid-sized city in Canada?

This is a lot to get done in a four year term. Does this Council have the drive, vision and fortitude to achieve any of it?

 

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Council report suggests a 4% a year tax increase every year for the next term. Given some of the revenue shortfalls – that could be a wish.

burlbudgetBy Pepper Parr

July 28, 2014

BURLINGTON, ON.

Once City council had lopped  close to $400,000 off the payroll with the retirement of Kim Phillips and Tom Eichenbaum,  the significant seven did their usual non-debatable statements and then took a six week break – they will be back right after Labour Day.

 

Ward 2 Councillor Meed Ward is looking at the financial side of the city much more these days.  As chair of the Community and Corporate Services committee she shepherds the budget review through the Standing Committee and has brought a much more feisty appraoch to that process.

Ward 2 Councillor Meed Ward is looking at the financial side of the city much more these days. As chair of the Community and Corporate Services committee she shepherds the budget review through the Standing Committee and has brought a much more feisty approach to that process.

Ward 2 Councillor Marianne Meed Ward said they were going to be away for a “short period of time” and the Mayor reminded Cogeco listeners that the members of council would be doing there door to door thing – given that this is an election year.  The Mayor said you could expect to see him at your door as well – even though he is running against himself – and on that basis a number of people think he could lose.

 

Director of Finance Joan Ford does a great job of providing the data ad her department does a good job of collecting the taxes as well.  It's the spending side that is causing the long term financial stress.  Ms Ford doesn't do the spending.

Director of Finance Joan Ford does a great job of providing the data and her department does a good job of collecting the taxes as well. It’s the spending side that is causing the long term financial stress. Ms Ford doesn’t do the spending.

In approving the reports from the Standing Committee on Community Services there was mention of a report that was “received as information only” in which the Finance department set out what the tax hit for 2015 might be.  There was no discussion about this at Council – but it’s something you might want to print out and stick under their noses when they come calling for your support.

In 2010 Council set the budget for 2011 and came up with a 0% increase, due in large measure to the first time citizens saw Councillor Sharman’s “bull in the china” shop approach to getting what he wanted.  At the beginning of the term that is coming to an end, Mayor Goldring spoke of a 10% increase over the four year term.  They came close. You won’t be so lucky in the next term – the projection is for a 4% increase each year for the four years.

Here is how Finance explained it all.  Council was being given the parameters on which staff will prepare the 2015 budget. The framework presented in the report outlined principles that have been recognized by Council as important policy decisions, as well as highlighting  budget drivers that will impact the 2015 budget.

By way of background, in November of 2012 Council approved a Long Term Financial Plan which outlined strategic objectives to ensure financial sustainability and responsible financial management; that is what Finance will be working from as they develop the 2015 budget.

On March 4, 2014, Council received the 20-Year Simulation of Forecasted Budget Drivers, which provided “a high level overview of major budget drivers and expected future tax rate impacts”. Inherent in the annual operating budget process are the normal pressures of inflation, growth, resources and fluctuating revenues, compounded by infrastructure renewal costs. This forecast as presented continues to recognize the anticipated drivers for the 2015 budget year resulting in;

 2.1% increase to maintain existing services

0.6% to address corporate pressures

1.3% to address increased infrastructure funding

 The above brings the forecasted increase to 4%.”

 

wer

The significant seven – how many of the rascals will get re-elected. The Mayor appears to be on the way to acclamation, but there are at least three council members who are at some risk risk.

Finance was good enough to point out that this is an election year, and staff want to ensure that the framework includes the important policy decisions of this council while not pre-supposing any budget decisions for the incoming council.  What they are saying is that this bunch of rascals had a plan but the next bunch of rascals don’t have to live with it.

The 2015 budget will ensure the following;

  • Base budget tax rate changes are aligned closely with inflation, represented by the three year annual rolling average of the Consumer Price Index (Toronto). The 2011-2013 annual CPI average was 1.92%
  • Ensure debt in the capital budget is used in a fiscally responsible manner, following the parameters in the city’s debt policy
  • Provisions to reserves are made to ensure adequate cash flow to meet defined current and future needs
  • Continued emphasis on moving forward with infrastructure renewal projects and maintain approved levies dedicated to reduce the infrastructure deficit, which is short something around $49 million
  • Transition to service based budgeting and recognize value for services through the reporting of public services.

The following are highlights of the key budget drivers as identified in the 20-year simulation presented in March:

Maintain current service levels (That shouldn’t be seen as a given.)

Address areas for revenue increases/ shortfalls ICI revenue has been consistently short, a negative number in 2013 and probably another negative for 2014 when all the numbers are in.

Match growth-related cost impacts with growth revenue (assessment growth)

Manage labour costs within a workforce planning strategy

No additional Joseph Brant Hospital levy for 2015 and beyond

Dedicated infrastructure renewal levy of 1.25% as per the approved asset management funding plan

There are many initiatives currently underway that will impact the presentation of the 2015 budget.  The City continues its transition to a service-based organization with a commitment to performance measurement, continuous improvement and accountability; but this is virgin territory for Burlington – expect some major hick-ups on this one.

The service portfolio currently has a total of 50 services (28 public services); this number may change as the service list is refined. Business plans summarizing the service strategy, existing service delivery, performance measures, and resources required to deliver the service at current service levels are in the review process. The 2015 current budget will be presented in both a service-based format and the traditional departmental-based format to ease the transition to a new budget presentation; that translates into close to two budgets which ramps up the staff time.

Staff continue to look for ways to improve the presentation for  the capital budget and forecast. A corporate team is currently underway developing changes to the capital budget to bring the focus to infrastructure renewal projects and growth projects. The capital budget will remain a 10-year program, broken down by asset categories. However, projects that are outside the scope of infrastructure renewal or the Development Charge program (growth) will be identified separately for Council’s consideration during the budget review process.

 

Sealing cracks on roads is one of the preventive maintenance tools before a road has to be rebuilt.  Shave and pave has proven to be money well spent - and we are spending a lot of money on this tool.

Sealing cracks on roads is one of the preventive maintenance tools before a road has to be rebuilt. Shave and pave has proven to be money well spent – and we are spending a lot of money on this tool.

This Council has been proactive in addressing the city’s infrastructure gap, over this council term. Most recently, council approved the asset management financing plan, a balanced approach to address renewal needs over the next 20 years. Council has identified infrastructure renewal as a key priority, through the approval of dedicated infrastructure levies and continued emphasis on infrastructure projects in the capital budget.

Below is a brief timeline of the 2015 budget process. -one might add there is a magic wand in there as well.  Somewhere in this time frame the city will be interviewing and hiring a new city manager who will undoubtedly want to put his finger prints on the budget documents.

Current and Capital budget overview – January 2015

Council Information Session – January 2015

Public Engagement – February 2015

Budget review – February 2015

Council budget approval – March 2015

Budget review and approval cannot occur until the New Year, after the new council has been inaugurated.  Council also has to realize that municipal funding pressures in the provincial budget may impact Burlington. The province has a huge deficit it wants to reduce by 2017 – and that is not going to be easy.  There is significant pressure on the province by the credit rating agencies (their ratings determine the interest rate the province has to pay) to reduce spending – some of those reductions might come out the hides of the municipal sector.

No one expects the near municipal rape of the Harris government, but those spending cuts have to come from somewhere.

Add to that the cost of the Official Plan and the costs it might create for the city.  The transportation master plan (get transit in there as well) and whatever the new council decides it wants in its Strategic Plan; none of these are likely to reduce costs

Don’t forget the expanded winter control service to parking lay-bys and plowing links to primary sidewalks. Then there is the Ontario One Call service that requires all Ontario municipalities to join On1Call by June 19, 2014.  Roads and Parks Maintenance annualized the cost to the city at $76,370 in 2015 plus a 25% contingency.

That comes perilously close to a $100,000 chunk out of the corporate apple and the city couldn’t register as much as a word in the way of complaint.

Robertson Cathy

Cathy Robertson has the unenviable task of knowing just when to get the snow plows out on the road and organizing her fleet so that the snow is plowed before people head for work. The Windrow in the drive way – sorry about that.

The Burlington Economic Development Corporation managed to spend tens of thousands on report after report – now they will want funds to get into the game of actually doing some economic development.  During the lead up to the creation of the reformed EDC all kinds of expensive ideas were flying around the room.  This was an opportunity for the private sector to do what they like to do – take risks – with public money.

The Finance department adds that there might be upcoming reports from other sectors not yet brought to Council.

Mention was made of the opportunity to create a new strategic plan for 2015 and beyond, that can enable larger budget changes such as multi-year budgeting, which could shorten the review period and resource requirements, while maintaining the objectives of the Long Term Financial Plan.

That’s a little like the $60 million obligation the city took on to pay for the part of the Joseph Brant Hospital the city said we had to pay for – the requirement got laced into the budget and the taxpayers saw a new line on their tax bill.  Don’t expect that cash grab to disappear once the $60 million has been collected.

Income tax was introduced to Canada as a First World War measure – that one is still with us.  It is always wiser to have bureaucrats justify what they ask for every year – keeps them on their toes.

16% for the next four years eh! – and that’s the out of the gate number.  Will Councillor Sharman manage to get himself re-elected and do his 0% increase for 2015 the way he did in 2011?  He will want to be Mayor after that.

 

 

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106 city hall staff members on the provincial sunshine list – earning more than $100,000 annually.

By Staff

March 31, 2014

BURLINGTON, ON.

Each year the province requires municipalities to publish a list of all those who earn more than $100,00 annually.  The data is  presented as the salary paid and benefits given that are taxable.

Burlington civil servants were given a 1% salary increase in the 2014 budget.

Councillor Marianne Meed Ward brought a motion to Council that was approved asking the city manager to look into the free parking and free transit passes that are given city employees.  Meed Ward is of the view that this benefit is taxable and should be treated as such.

The first figure shown after each name is the annual salary, the second is the taxable benefit.

ADCOCK ALAN Firefighter $102,172.28 $487.27

ALDHAM JUDY Field Services Supervisor $104,070.38 $2,225.26

ALLDRIDGE BRIAN Platoon Chief $124,140.31 $649.80

ANTONIOW PHIL Manager of Program Development, Budgets and Contracts $112,680.32 $622.77

AXIAK ROB Manager Facility Operations and Special Projects $105,876.99 $552.03

BAKOS MICHAEL Captain $108,247.81 $571.12

BARRY PHILIP Captain $108,610.77 $573.86

BAVOTA ANTHONY Fire Chief $157,572.65 $1,906.95

BAYLOR MARK Captain $110,816.79 $570.96

BAYNTON STEVE T. Captain $111,727.68 $586.64

BEATTY DAVID N. Fire Chief $105,836.89 $3,409.68

BEDINI CHRIS District Supervisor $105,298.61 $662.70

BENNETT RANDY Manager of Information Technology Infrastructure and Operations $117,305.77 $640.34

BENNITT JAMES District Supervisor $101,209.87 $764.12

BERDAN MICHAEL Transit Supervisor $103,954.97 $456.07

BIELSKI BIANCA Manager of Development Planning $131,198.38 $739.08

BIRCH CHARLES T. Captain $112,490.88 $585.12

BLACK JEFFREY Manager of Field Services $105,641.57 $3,398.73

BOYD LAURA Human Resource Manager $106,215.06 $590.76

BRILLON SYLVAIN Firefighter $100,870.86 $484.09

CAUGHLIN DEBORAH Manager of Council Services $104,747.58 $582.24

CHOLEWKA CHRIS Captain $107,542.24 $564.00

CLARK CARY Manager of Development and Environmental Engineering $109,618.58 $550.80

COULSON ANN MARIE Manager of Financial Planning and Taxation $133,138.56 $702.66

CRASS JOHN Manager of Traffic Services $106,854.96 $599.16

DI PIETRO ITALO Manager of Infrastructure and Data Management $118,340.36 $655.44

DONATI DERRICK Firefighter $101,799.93 $495.31

DOWD TIMOTHY Captain $117,192.97 $585.12

DUNCAN JOHN Transit Manager $120,963.15 $1,069.52

EALES MARK Captain $106,407.96 $559.95

EICHENBAUM TOOMAS Director of Engineering $165,413.29 $877.56

EVANS FRANCES Manager Halton Court Administration $104,071.88 $575.45

FIELDING JEFF City Manager $249,940.24 $8,898.60

FIORAVANTI LEANNE Solicitor $105,949.26 $510.32

FORD JOAN Director of Finance $153,457.30 $838.93

FRYER E. TODD Firefighter $101,929.55 $519.12

GLENN CHRISTOPHER Director of Parks and Recreation $132,997.91 $731.28

GLOBE DARREN Captain $107,508.37 $573.49

GOLDRING PATRICK Mayor $168,155.78 $2,511.56

GRISON GREGORY J. Captain $111,727.66 $585.74

HAMILTON SCOTT Manager Design and Construction $111,514.22 $618.78

HAMMER CHAD Firefighter $101,951.54 $493.89

HAMMOND BILL Fire Training Supervisor $107,840.61 $562.56

HART TIMOTHY Firefighter $103,027.20 $492.49

HAYES DENNIS M. Platoon Chief $127,478.73 $617.46

HEBNER PETER B. Captain $114,146.11 $585.12

HURLEY BLAKE Assistant City Solicitor $134,557.07 $644.83

JAMES MICHAEL Training Officer – Fire $102,489.52 $570.96

JONES SHEILA City Auditor $123,574.30 $664.26

JONES STEPHEN Captain $107,384.25 $550.83

JURK ROBERT Senior Project Leader $105,261.62 $581.57

KEANEY THOMAS Firefighter $100,775.57 $486.09

KELL DONNA Manager of Public Affairs $114,486.31 $630.35

KELLY JOHN Captain $110,246.84 $579.30

KIPPEN MARK Firefighter $100,628.48 $496.85

KOEVOETS MATT District Supervisor $106,906.64 $1,394.19

KRUSHELNICKI BRUCE Director Planning and Building $160,581.87 $891.60

KUBOTA ERIKA Assistant City Solicitor $134,346.99 $644.86

LAING BRUCE K. Captain $111,727.68 $585.12

LAPORTE N. JASON Captain $109,433.52 $571.25

LASELVA JOHN Supervisor Building Permits $103,581.39 $578.01

LONG MARK Captain $114,237.26 $591.85

MACDONALD GARY F. Captain $111,727.68 $585.12

MACKAY MICHAEL J. Captain $111,727.68 $587.71

MAGI ALLAN Executive Director of Corporate Strategic Initiatives $172,840.24 $967.56

MALE ROY E. Executive Director of Human Resources $182,946.28 $1,012.56

MARTIN CHRISTOPHER Captain $108,414.44 $553.46

MATHESON JAMIE Firefighter $100,671.68 $492.84

MCNAMARA MICHAEL J. Captain $112,644.56 $585.12

MERCANTI CINDY Manager of Recreation Services $113,175.87 $568.20

MINAJI ROSALIND Coordinator Development Review $100,370.93 $560.67

MONTEITH ROSS A. Deputy Fire Chief $136,019.93 $1,601.85

MORGAN ANGELA City Clerk $140,406.98 $753.15

MYERS PETER R. Captain $111,727.67 $593.09

NICELIU KENNETH Firefighter $104,681.45 $514.61

NICHOLSON J. ALAN Captain $111,727.68 $585.12

O’REILLY SANDRA Controller and Manager of Financial Services $113,228.22 $591.60

PEACHEY ROBERT Manager Parks and Open Space $111,558.40 $623.32

PHILLIPS KIMBERLEY General Manager $212,612.61 $8,730.36

POLIZIANI MATTHEW Captain $107,950.52 $557.81

REILLY PETER Captain $114,474.01 $589.90

ROBERTSON CATHARINE Director of Roads and Parks Maintenance $146,163.10 $1,304.38

SCHMIDT-SHOUKRI JASON Manager of Building Permit Services and Chief Building Official $135,620.24 $738.61

SHAHZAD ARIF Senior Environmental Engineer $100,995.97 $560.26

SHEA NICOL NANCY City Solicitor $168,958.55 $814.29

SHIELDS LISA Assistant City Solicitor $134,626.43 $638.32

SLACK CRAIG D. Platoon Chief $128,234.10 $649.80

SMITH CLINT Platoon Chief $127,352.17 $649.80

SMITH SIMON Firefighter $100,129.68 $498.05

SPICER MIKE Director of Transit $134,021.48 $708.84

STEIGINGA RON Manager of Realty Services $113,120.85 $618.84

STEVENS CRAIG Senior Project Manager $101,835.28 $570.98

STEWART SCOTT General Manager $217,635.03 $10,462.48

SWANCE JEFFREY W. Captain $111,727.67 $585.12

SWENOR CHRISTINE Director Information Technology Services $163,040.20 $861.42

TAGGART DAVID Manager Facility Assets $111,045.99 $610.32

THANDI JAZZ Manager Procurement Services $101,688.67 $561.61

VRAKELA STEVE Field Services Supervisor $101,325.60 $1,691.68

WEBER JEFF Deputy Fire Chief $139,961.19 $5,933.10

WHEATLEY RYAN Captain $110,407.44 $570.96

WIGNALL T. MARK Firefighter $102,867.06 $512.74

WINTAR JOSEPH Chief Fire Prevention Officer $110,934.32 $621.60

WOODS DOUGLAS S. Captain $112,106.48 $585.12

ZORBAS STEVE General Manager $167,678.00 $923.12

ZVANIGA BRUCE Director of Transportation Services $145,292.33 $775.86

 

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If the grass you cut was really hay – would you get a lower tax rate? Developers take hay off vacant land and pay 1/5th the tax you pay.

By Pepper Parr

March 12, 2014

BURLINGTON, ON.

During the time of Jesus in first century Israel, there were tax collectors who could walk up to a man and tax him for what he was carrying.  These tax collectors were hated and despised because they were usually fellow Jews who worked for Rome. There were many taxes needed from the provinces to administrate the Roman Empire. These taxes paid for a good system of roads, law and order, security, religious freedom, a certain amount of self-government and other benefits.  The men who did this work were called publicans.

It isn’t all that much different today. The province of Ontario requires the municipalities to maintain roads and water treatment plants; we have to have a police force, we have to have a Medical Officer of Health who administers rules the province puts in place.

The city of Burlington levies taxes.  City council recently passed a budget that set a budget of $133,816,211 for current operations and $67 million for capital expenditures and determined that home owners will pay a tax of $12.78 for every $100,000 of property valuation.  That property assessment is set by MPAC – the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation..

Every property owners know what the taxes are on their homes – what most people don’t know is that different types of property pay a different amount of tax

Residential property is taxed at what they refer to as 1; which means they pay that $12.78 for every $100,000 of property assessment.

There are eight different classes of property:

Residential (1.0)

New multi-residential (2.0)

Multi-residential (2.26)

Commercial (1.45)

Industrial (2.35),

Farmlands (0.20)

Managed forests (0.25)

Pipelines, (1.06)

This Enbridge pipe line runs from border to border of the city – they pay .06 more on their assessment than you do for your house.  What is the pipeline asses at?  We don’t know that.

Those numbers in brackets represent the tax ratio rate, with residential always set at 1.  So for a property assessed at $200,000 that is residential that rate would be 2 x $12.78  a property that is classed Commercial the rate would be 2.35 x $12.78  assuming the same $200,000 assessment

This isn’t exactly the middle of a farm field is it. Land that could be taxed as commercial gets a farmland tax rate even if it is in the middle of town – all you have to do is cut the hay and bale it.

Take a look at that farmland rate and recall driving by one of those vacant lots on the South service Road where you may have seen round bales of hay that never seems to get taken away.  That property managed to get itself classes as farmland and all they have to pay is 0.20 of that $12.78  tax rate.  Now you know why developers can hang onto land and are patient while its value increases.  They get it classified as farm land, have someone cut what is really low, low quality hay and pay 1/5th of the rate you are paying for your property.

Those tax rates are set by the Regional government.  Burlington has seven seats on the 20 member council – but don’t expect our team to suggest a different tax structure for farmland held by developers or for that matter, land in those large estates north of 407.  Huge homes where people live in the lap of luxury – which is fine.  Heck they earned their money (didn’t they?) and if they can afford that kind of space good on them – but have them pay the same taxes as those poor shmucks in the suburbs south of Dundas.

Things used to better in Burlington; there was a time when the city levied a tax on telephone poles. “we can’t do that anymore” advised the Director of Finance.  There was a bit of a wistful look in her eye when she made that statement.

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John Street terminal to stay for now; bigger issue got put on the table: Where is Burlington going with public transit – council doesn’t know.

By Pepper Parr

March 5, 2014

BURLINGTON, ON.

The John Street transit terminal will remain in place – for now.  On a vote of 5-2 (Sharman, Dennison were prepared to let people stand out in the cold)  The city is currently looking at the matter of transit hubs – there are four that are being avidly discussed – with the John Street location seen as one of the more critical locations.  The Burlington GO station has more bus routes going through it – 16 as opposed to the 8 that run through the John Street location.  The Mayor sees it as a critical part of the downtown core.

There was a time when a much larger bus terminal existed 25 yards to the left of this small terminal on John Street – it was where people met. There were fewer cars, Burlington didn’t have the wealth then that it has now. We were a smaller city, as much rural as suburban. The times have changed and transit now needs to change as well.

The transit people wanted to shut the terminal down because the drivers wouldn’t need the facility and the public would be able to get answers to their questions at the Harvester Road transit office which is open longer than the terminal and has staff available on Sunday.  What Spicer kept calling  “fare media” when he meant bus tickets, would be available at local retail locations in the downtown core.  The Queen’s Head and Coffee Culture are the closest retail locations that are open long hours but Spicer told council that his people had not approached anyone yet.

Were the terminal to be closed, tickets will be available at city hall – but the hours there are limited.  What was startling was no mention whatsoever about customer comfort.  In this brutally cold weather that has been with us for more than a month the outdoor shelters just don’t cut it.  The terminal is a warm place to wait for a bus.

Mayor Rick Goldring said transit had to have a meaningful presence in the downtown core and added that he talks to a lot of people who use the John Street terminal.

The Mayor and Meed Ward were the only two people to talk about the terminal.  Meed Ward then moved on to part two of her transit mission: where was transit in the Transportation Master Plan review which has focused a bit on the creation of four mobility hubs.  Burlington’s friends and supporters of transit (Bfast)  couldn’t see it in the proceedings so far.

Mobility hubs at the GO stations is close to a no brainer – it is the possible hub in the downtown core that has yet to be thoroughly thought through. Council decided that closing the terminal on John Street to save $8000 a year was not a bright idea.

Meed Ward was the chair of the committee reviewing budget submissions which means when she has a question she turns the gavel over to her vice chair Paul Sharman who behaved like an enforcer on a hockey team and appeared to feel his job was to keep the puck away from Meed Ward and if she did get her hands on the thing – then his job was to knock her down.  It was particularly deplorable behaviour during which there was precious little respect shown.  We have seen this kind of behaviour from Councillor Sharman in the past.

With the gavel in his hands Sharman challenged her right to bring a new matter to the committee meeting.  The Clerk ruled that Meed Ward could bring a new matter and given that transit was being discussed and her matter was related to transit she wanted to proceed.

What became clear during the discussion about the John Street terminal is the difficulty the city is having with just what it wants to do, will have to do and can afford in terms of public transit.

The transit advocates maintain that the city had not made it perfectly clear that transit was part of the Master Transportation Plan the city is currently reviewing.

General Manager Scott Stewart put that dog to rest when he made it perfectly clear that transit is a vital part of the transportation thinking. 

Doug Brown, chair of Bfast – Burlington’s friends and supporters of transit, can read a bus schedule better than most bookies can read the Racing Guide. He meets with Susan Lewis a transit user.

Doug Brown Bfast chair said he has been asking if transit was being considered within the Transportation Master Plan and hadn’t been given an answer.  Last November Brown sent the following questions to everyone he felt was involved.  He says he has yet to get an answer.  Bfast wants to know:

1) Will the Transportation Master Plan (TMP) develop a comprehensive long-term transit plan, including funding, to guide the growth of a robust transit system?

 2) Will the TMP fully analyze and assess all opportunities to minimize road and intersection widenings and the construction of additional parking facilities through investments in transit, active transportation, and Transportation Demand Management?

 3) Will the TMP be evaluated against criteria demonstrating that implementation of the TMP will:

a) meet the City’s own planning objectives (ROPA38 requirement to increase local transit to 11% modal split from current 2%);

b) meet the objectives of the City’s Strategic Plan (walkable, liveable, inclusive communities; GHG reduction targets)

c) will be environmentally and economically sustainable by determining all costs and benefits of proposed transportation options 

 4) Will the TMP look at successful measures in other cities (i.e. Portland, Ottawa, Victoria) to increase transit and active transportation modes.

Meed Ward read these out at the budget meeting.  Stewart said he wasn’t aware of the questions; Meed Ward said she would send them to him.

The discussion around what the transit issue really is was instructive.  Burlington is expected to increase the transit part of its modal split (that is the number of people who use different forms of transportation) from 2% to 11% by 2031 and that can only happen if transit ridership increases by 10% each year.

Blend into that the fact that transit ridership was lower in 2013 than it was in 2012.

City manager Jeff Fielding points out that our population is only going to grow by 1900 a year for the next ten years and then asks:  “Do you really think you are going to get a modal shift from 2% up to 11% in the next 20 years.  I can’t see it, I really can’t see it and I’m a big transit supporter.  There may be some other approaches we need to look at.”

Councillor Taylor was just as direct.  He said we are not going to get new people to take transit.  If transit is to grow it will have to come from the existing population – and that is going to mean changing our communities and intensifying.  The one way you can change transit said Taylor is to make it more convenient for the users.

No one moves to Burlington to get around using transit.Councillor Sharman was both direct and blunt.  Burlington is a great city and a place where wealthy people want to live.  Wealthy people have cars.  No one moves to Burlington to get around using transit.

Those views sum up the predicament and the challenge that transit faces.

That brought Meed Ward back into the conversation with a question for staff:  “Can they tell us with some specificity how transit will be handled within the Transportation Master Plan?”  Stewart was able to oblige her.  Transit will be part of the Transportation Master Plan discussions but there will not be a transit business case coming out of the TMP.

Stewart undertook to get answers to the Bfast questions; when, asked Meed Ward.  Not in March, that’s for sure responded Stewart; probably in April or May.

Transit is due to produce their first report card on how the service is doing in June.  Add to that the news that transit is currently working with the providers of a technology that will give the transit managers real-time data on who gets on and off a bus and exactly where this happens; data Burlington Transit says is vital if they are to effectively allocate the resources they have.

As the discussion was coming to a close Sharman, filling in as chair of the meeting, asked Meed Ward if she had a motion.  No, she replied and I now want to withdraw the motion I might have had.  She had made her point – transit was now very much on the table and a part of an upcoming agenda.

Viewpoints that were not known before were now public.

The city does have a transit advisory committee – problem with that committee is that it can’t manage to meet which increases Stewart’s frustration level.

The one way you can change transit is to make it more convenient for the users.Susan Lewis a consistent transit user, she doesn’t drive, was asked to join the Transit Advisory committee and headed downtown in January  for a meeting.  When she got to city hall she and one other person were the only people in the room; the meeting had been cancelled and not everyone was told.

Mayor Goldring and Councillor Meed Ward want clarity, the transit advocates want a clear policy commitment and better funding.  The city manager doesn’t want to provide that money because he doesn’t see value in it and the bulk of this council don’t have a lot of time for transit.  They spent more time talking about the removal of snow.

There is one sliver of hope.  The city manager is a transit supporter and he would very much like to have some bold ideas to work with.  The Bfast people, who can be a bit pedantic at times, do know what moving people around on public transit is all about.

If Stewart does manage to get all the players in the room he just might find that the Bfast people have a lot to offer; he just has to manage the frustration that overcomes him on occasion.  He might think in terms of making Bfast the transit advisory committee.  It couldn’t be any worse than what he has now – and the transit staff would be well served to listen carefully to these people.  More respect for each other would go a long way as well.

The discussion really wasn’t a budget issue; Meed Ward was pushing the rules, but she brought to the table a discussion that has been needed for some time.  Councillors Lancaster and Dennison had nothing to say; it will be a long time before you see either of them on a bus.

Councillors Lancaster and Dennison had nothing to say; it will be a long time before you see either of them on a bus.Back to those mobility hubs and the John Street terminal.  The hubs and hinged to the GO stations which makes sense – the downtown hub was the location that council wasn’t as certain about.

One of the “big picture” tasks the city is working on is opportunities to develop the north end of John Street where the city owns a parking lot that abuts the plaza at the top of John Street.

Medica One or the Carriage Gate project – pick the name you like best – will go up at the top of John Street and consist of a medical offices building, an above ground garage and an apartment/condo complex. It will bring significant change to the intersection and drive redevelopment of the plaza to the immediate north, A transit hub a couple of blocks to the south then makes a lot of sense.

The Carriage Gate group is expected to break ground soon on its medical building, parking garage and apartment/condo tower which will make the Caroline and John Street part of town a busier place.

Parking lot # 3 at the top of John Street just south of the shopping plaza is being given a very close look for redevelopment. The Carriage Gate development will draw people to the area creating a John Street that could undergo significant development. There might be life in the downtown core yet.

Some of the city thinking has the plaza at the top of John Street being given a massive make over and that portion of John Street north of Caroline a cleanup – it looks more like a laneway right now.  All this thinking will impact what happens at the south end of John, where just blocks away the Delta Hotel and the Bridgewater condominiums are about to see some real construction activity.

A John Street mobility hub then would be a critical part of any makeover of this part of town which is all   very much a project that is in the thinking through the ramifications stage.

The Mayor wants to stay with this one; get in front of it and lead the parade.

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Council keeps taxes for this term of office just over their 10% projection – comes in at 10.13 over four years.

By Pepper Parr

March 5, 2014

BURLINGTON, ON.

What started out as an ask of $134,513,000 as a total tax levy, which called for a tax increase of 4.66%, got pared down to $133,889,000 which would have meant a tax increase of 4.13% finally came in at $133,816,211 and a tax increase of 3.5% which works out to $12.78 for each $100,000 of residential urban assessment – it took close to two months to whittle that number back. 

Tax haul to be  $133,816,211 for 2014 - tax rate for 2014 to be an increase of 3.5% The number represents an increase of 3.5% which over the term of this council totals 10.13% over the four-year term – slightly higher than the 10% the Mayor went on record with.  Expect to hear that point made regularly by this council during the election we will have in October.

Budgets however are a lot more than just numbers; the deliberations that get a council to their total are an honest look at the values these seven people bring to the job they do.  At times the view was exceptional but all too often it was disappointing, limited and showed a timidness and an inability to come up with the bold yet creative ideas that would both grow the city financially and at the same time maintain the quality of life people who live here expect.

The hope for Burlington was seen at a Committee of the Whole Meeting that took place while Council was going through the budget deliberations.

In its media release the city included all the pat on the back stuff – and staff did do a fine job of making all the parts come together – but this was not a great budget. It was adequate.
There were more than a dozen citizen delegations – it is hard to identify those that were listened to with the exception that the city manager did promise he would come back to the arts and culture community no later than June and let them know if he has been able to find a full time equivalent to use as the spot for a cultural manager. That spark of creativity didn’t come from anyone on this council.

Highlights that the city points to include:
One-time funding of $86,000 for Community Development Halton for social programming, including North BurLINKton and the Chill Zone
$115,000 one-time and $25,000 ongoing funding for an extra round of loose leaf collection in areas north of the QEW
$643,000 toward infrastructure renewal.

Back in 2010 the city was told they had to come up with $60 million as its share of the redevelopment price for the Joseph Brant Hospital. That amount has been paid out during the past year with the levy rising each year to what will be a $1.2 million increase this year which brings what we are setting aside this year to $4.8 million. That levy by the way is not likely to ever disappear – once they have their hand in your pocket they will find a way to keep it there.

Culture and the staff compliment got the most attention - and most of the money this year.This year there was very little, if any, mention of “shave and pave” that process we use to keep the cost of maintaining our roads manageable.
The budget this paid much more attention to culture than it did to the state of the roads; an exceptionally heavy winter resulted in a lot of discussion about what we want to do about snow removal.

The size of the staff compliment was always on the table. No new hires but a lot of re-evaluating positions and redeveloping the job done. We learned during the budget deliberations there was going to be a total workforce review to determine what the city has and what it needs in terms of a workforce and how to use what it has to get what we need done.

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Guess whose name is coming off the Christmas card list? Meed Ward wants staff parking treated as a taxable benefit.

By Pepper Parr

March 3, 2014

BURLINGTON, ON.

She is serious.  Ward 2 Councillor Marianne Meed Ward is moving with some dispatch on her desire to see the city show the free parking staff get as a taxable benefit.

Lot of staff in the Locust Street lot.  Covered space is a prime perk – Council member wants to tax it.

In a note to her colleagues she said:  Upon further discussion with staff, staff have advised that employee parking in the downtown has been provided on a scramble basis which is open to interpretation.  Therefore, Council has the option to direct staff to review and address in 2014 employee parking with respect to the taxable benefit status, specifically for union and non-unionized city employees, downtown local board employees and members of Council including implementation issues such as notification requirements, options and, other related impacts.

Meed Ward created a data sheet for her council colleagues pointing out WHAT

All of these details could be outlined in an implementation plan staff would bring back to council.  Thus the wording of the motion for tomorrow’s meeting, to keep it simple, is as follows:

 “Direct staff report back on an implementation plan in 2014 for employee parking as a taxable benefit.”

Now we get to see just how the other six members of council treat this matter.  Teachers get free parking – we don’t know yet if this is treated as a taxable benefit.  The legislation certainly suggest it should be treated as such.

In her note to her colleagues Meed Ward brings up the issue of “parking on a scramble basis” which is when the first person to get to a space can take it.  And as long as there are spaces available – a person can park.  When spaces are not available – they are out of luck.

Expect to see considerable discussion around that issue.

If the city manager were smart – and he is – he should just fold on this one and thank Meed Ward for her contribution and advise that the city will resolve this issue quickly – in favour of the tax payers.

Ward 2 Councillor Meed Ward is looking at the financial side of the city much more these days. As chair of the Community and Corporate Services committee she shepherds the budget review through the Standing Committee and has brought a much more feisty approach to that process.

For those that watch the goings on at city hall – it would be easy to get the impression that Meed Ward just might be positioning  herself for a move.  She has yet to file nomination papers as a candidate in ward 2 – but then that applies to everyone else on Council except for the Mayor who filed early in January.

Meed Ward brought up the matter of free staff parking and said she thught it should be debated during the budget cycle.  This Council hopes to make the budget final on Tuesday – this issue puts a fly in that ointment.

Background links:

Is Meed Ward looking at her chess board and plotting her next move?

Meed Ward suggests free staff parking is taxable.

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Full time heritage planner first step to a Conservation Heritage District designation for Mt Nemo plateau

By Pepper Parr

February 22, 2014

BURLINGTON, ON.

There will be a heritage planner – a full time heritage planner but getting the position secured was easier said than done.

The question in front of city council as they worked their way through the budget was: how much did they want to spend on a heritage PLANNER – $206,000 or $103,000.

The city already has a heritage planner who spends half of her time on heritage matters and the rest of her time on other planning work; she is swamped.  She gives the city far more time than she gets paid for and has done a lot of superb work.

Heritage has become a sort of favourite flavour of the moth in this city.  The Heritage Advisory Committee is much more active – at times they think they need a full time planner.  When the decision was made to go forward with the idea of a Conservation Heritage District for the Mt Nemo Plateau the work of the heritage planner suddenly got much bigger.

The question then was – how much staff resource are needed?  For some reason council wanted to get right into the weeds on this one.  They first talked in glowing terms about the job the current heritage planner has been doing and then began to map out her career for the next ten years until they were told  that wasn’t council’s job.

It was about 15 months ago that rural Burlington began the discusion about what it wanted to be. Some things were clear – others not as clear. The early draft of a vision got put on a huge board and for the most part the community liked the look of what they had said to each other.

Council had gotten into the weeds on this one the way they do far too often.  For a bit it looked like they were going to start running the department.  Should the current planner become full time on heritage? a full time role and contract someone for an additional half day; no that’s not good use of human resources.  OK look for someone within the department and have them pick up the development work the planner was doing – the rationale for that view was that development is off so there must be bodies in planning with nothing better to do.

General manager Scott Stewart who signs off on everything that comes out of planning, struggled to get a grip on all the ideas flying around when the city manager pipes up with his position:  it isn’t pretty.

“You don’t Jenna, she does; she decides what she wants to do.  You have asked us to manage – then let us manage; that is not your job; this is not the type of discussion we should be having; you have me here to tell you things like this.”

A heritage planner was critical if a Conservation Heritage District bylaw was ever to get passed. First part of that effort got through a Standing Committee.

The proposal to think about turning the Mt. Nemo Plateau into a Conservation Heritage District which is just at the information gathering stage will require a lot more of a planner’s time.  That file has the potential to become a lot messier than it would at first appear – when individual land issues are on the table get ready for noisy meetings.

Councillor Taylor is a big advocate on for making the plateau a conservation district – he wanted the planning resources available.

While council was digesting that blast from the city manager, Scott Stewart the general manager invited the Director of planning to “take it outside” where they worked out the possible time/task splits

The proposal was to have 1.5 heritage planners – then it looked like they were looking at two planners.  Then there was a tussle over what this planner would be doing.  The issue was where the planner was going to come from and the amount of work that was going to get created by the Mt. Nemo Conservation District task that is now on the table – or look as if it is going to be on the table.

A motion to hire more people failed, the amended motion to make the existing half time planner into a full-time position and distribute other work she was doing within the existing staff compliment passed 6-1 with Taylor voting against the decision made.  He wanted more in the way of human resources than his colleagues were prepared to pay for.

Residents look at a large map of their community during a Rural Summit more than a year ago. That meeting was the genesis of making the Mt Nemo Plateau a Conservation Heritage District.

Some members of council wanted to know why staff just didn’t do the staff allocation.  It was a new position – they were moving from a half time heritage planner to a full-time heritage planner and that was a decision council had to make, explained director of finance Joan Ford.  What Ford was trying to say in a polite way was that council had to decide on the expenditure – staff would then decide who should be doing the job.

Councillor Meed Ward said she had “difficulty with the process that got us here”.

Was the spend going to be $103,000 or was it going to be $206,000 and would the new position be added to the base staff compliment or would they go outside and contract with someone, or would they look within the planning department and find someone who wasn’t all that busy.

Councillor Lancaster thought the city was moving too quickly on this file. Her view was that council needed to be more reflective and to take some time.  But that wasn’t the view that Councillor Taylor brought to the horseshoe.  The Conservation District would be in his ward and he is fully aware as to just how powerful the people in North Burlington can be.  They were the folk that hung in and fought the Nelson Aggregate quarry expansion.  Those people know how to dig in and for them a Conservation District would solve a lot of their concerns or they think it will.

It took $2 million out of the legal department’s budget to pay for the tear long tribunal that decided the Jefferson Salamander was important and that an expansion of the existing quarry should not be permitted. It was rural Burlington residents who were the force behind that battle – they were not to be trifled with.  The expansion to the quarry was going to be in the lower part of this topographical map

Councillor Dennison said that “we didn’t ask for this, we don’t need to get all gung-ho about it.  He wasn’t all that keen on the “foremost specialist the city hired to do the first cut of the research presented at the January meeting.  Get ready to see this as a file that becomes very contentious.

At the community event in January city planner Bruce Krushelnicki explained that a Heritage Conservation District was created through a bylaw passed by the city.  No one else has any input on that bylaw he explained.  The city can pass a bylaw to create something and they can revise that bylaw anytime they wish.

What the planning department has to do is do the research necessary to figure out how best to craft a bylaw that will stand up to scrutiny – and at the same time ensure that the community wants such a bylaw and understands the ramifications.  There are both ramifications and consequences – some of them unintended.

Once e a bylaw is in place it tends to take on a life of its own – which is what the rural life advocates want to see.

Making that happen requires a lot of hard work, a lot of research and a lot of public opinion massaging.

The first battle was to get the planner in place so that some of the early research work could get done.

There will be a planner, working full-time on heritage matters.  The planning department will figure out a way to reallocate day-to-day work in the department.

Our significant seven weren’t seen at their best on this issue and they needed the sharp rebuke from the city manager to remind then what they were supposed to be doing.

At times one wonders how we manage to stay out of serious trouble.

Background links:

Rural Burlington figures out what it wants to be.

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Council beavers away at reducing spending – has $2.7 million left over from last year – which they aren’t going to give back.

By Pepper Parr

February 22, 2014

BURLINGTON, ON.

When they brought things to a closer on Thursday we had a CURRENT budget of $134,339,651 agreed upon at the Standing Committee and a tax increase of 3.9%.  Staff had asked for a tax increase of 4.3%

Council may whittle down the staff budget request when they resume budget deliberations early in March.  At that time they get to decide what they want to do with the $2.7 million surplus – money not spent in 2013.  The finance staff call these “retained savings”.

Photoshopping at its very best – the Significant Seven have never got along as much as this photograph would suggest.  Several of then can’t stand one another.  Mayor has said he would be quite happy to see them all re-elected.

What has council done so far?  The Cultural Manager was off the table, the Museums of Burlington got the contract person onto the staff roster.  The Economic development people got their money but there were some strings attached.

An assistant supervisor for school crossing guards wasn’t approved but the Heritage Burlington property tax rebate did get the green light it was looking for.  The Performing Arts Centre is going to get a closer look.

Bus cleaners were going to get $65,000 a year but they would be doing other work as well

Community Development Halton did get the $85,000 they were seeking (they got the same amount last year) but Councillor Taylor had to promise that he would not be asking for the same amount of money next year. 

Of the 47 items that council members wanted to discuss – less than 20 got covered – so there is quite a lot of ground to cover.

On Monday the 24th, Council meets as the Development and Infrastructure committee.

Tuesday they meet as the Community and Corporate Services committee.

Thursday they do a significant session as a Committee of the Whole and focus on just where we are with the Economic Development Corporation – which is, as one real estate professional in the city put it a “disastrous embarrassment”. The economic development chicken has finally come home to roost. 

The first week of March council meets on the 4th to complete the budget review and hopefully approve the document and set the tax rate for 2014.

For some reason the budget agendas this year have had the feel of a bit of a hustle to them.  Usually a Standing Committee meets and recommends a budget, the public gets a few days to read, review and reflect on the document and if there are serious concerns people can delegate at the Council meeting that will approve the budget.

This year the Standing Committee will turn itself into a Council meeting and pass the budget on the spot.  We don’t see much community engagement in that process.  For Councillors who are up for re-election one would think they would be a little more solicitous and ensure the public gets a chance to voice their opinions.  Guess you are all going to have to wait to make your opinion known on election day – October 27th.

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Culture in the city isn’t going to be managed – council takes a pass on the cost – maybe next year.

By Pepper Parr

February 21, 2014

BURLINGTON, ON.

There isn’t going to be a Cultural Manager in Burlington during 2014 – perhaps in 2015, but a Standing Committee just didn’t see a compelling case for hiring a new person for a job that wasn’t as clearly defined as it could have been.

The arts and culture community brought its existence to the surface – the city learned a lot more about who they were, what they are and what they do.  Their lobbying efforts blew hot and cold.  They certainly pulled the Mayor into their circle – but that wasn’t enough.

Staff, particularly general manager Kim Phillips, who is the lead on culture in the city, didn’t do all that much to support the creation of the position.

Council seemed to feel that a full-time cultural planner was enough for now and would revisit the needs of the cultural community next year.

What was nascent and budding – has been stunted at the administration level. What was nascent and budding – has been stunted at the administration level.  It is going to be up to the artists to create whatever structure is needed.  What the city will see is various initiatives – and there is some very solid work being done by individual artists, but people who are not always the best at administrative stuff aren’t going to be able to market and move the idea that Burlington is a legitimate cultural centre forward very much.

There is some hope but it doesn’t exist at council nor at the senior staff level.

The unveiling of the Spiral Stella outside the Performing Arts Centre on a bright summer day was thought to be the beginning of a breakthrough point for the arts and cultural community. Hasn’t worked out that way, yet – but art perseveres – their day will come.

Discussion on this item that was on the books for $128,000 + a one time set up cost of $8,320 started with  Councillor Lancaster saying she was not on for this one – mostly because she didn’t think there was all that much to manage –and on that point she was right.  The arts community saw this as a person who would do some ground breaking and seed planting.

Mayor Goldring followed Lancaster saying he would not support the expense – at least not this year.  Councillor Sharman said he was where the Mayor is – not at this time.

Councillor Craven wanted to know what the impact would be without a Cultural Manager – he seemed to think that with the cultural planner in place whatever had to be done would get done.

General manager Phillips conceded that the Cultural Action Plan that Council has approved will certainly proceed much slower.  She added that there is some cultural mapping being done –people are adding data on who they are and what they do to the web site.

Councillors Taylor and Dennison took a pass – made no comment.

The city’s cultural planner is all the arts community has at this point. There is some cultural mapping being done – which is useful in itself but won’t do all that much to build the tremendous potential culture has in this city. Angela Papariza will use her well-developed culture background and training to work with people like Trevor Copp – not likely to see much more in 2014.

For Councillor Meed Ward – it was also a “not now – re-evaluate later” an odd decision given that much of the cultural activity is in the downtown core which is her bailiwick.  Meed Ward could see where this was going.

The question now is – what is the cultural planner going to do?  The current occupant of the position certainly has cred within the arts and culture community but Burlington has had good people working the culture file in the past – and they have all moved on.

The hope for many was that with the surprising energy that was seen within the arts and culture community (it was always there – just not seen or appreciated) the time had come to get serious and develop the opportunity.

The Arts and Cultural Collective did as much as they could – and then some.  Trevor Copp sent out a last-minute plea to the Collective membership:  “Without this position, Arts & Cultural Grants, an outside Arts body, use of space and bylaw reviews in our favour is seriously jeopardized. All our work may go up in smoke. Let them know how you feel please”.

What happens next will depend on the kind of energy and leadership that comes from the general manager handling this file.  Don’t get your hopes up.

Background links:

Turns out the art community didn’t get anything from the cookie jar.

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