Executive director of the Burlington Performing Arts Centre Brenda Heatherington, leaving in June to spend more time with family.

City Hall media release:

BURLINGTON, ON  March 19th, 2013 –Brenda Heatherington, the first executive director of the Burlington Performing Arts Centre, announced today she will leave in June to spend more time with her family.

“I was brought in three years ago to open this incredible venue,” Heatherington said. “I have watched The Burlington Performing Arts Centre go from a hole in the ground to a theatre with exceptional life and vibrancy. It is a good time now to pass the reigns to someone else.”

Heatherington came to Burlington from The Arden Theatre in St. Albert, Alta. in May 2010.

Heatherington brought great experience in finding the talent that draws audiences into theatre seats.  That talent is going to be hard to replace.

“I am truly grateful to everyone who has welcomed me here in Burlington, from the staff and volunteers to the board of directors, members of City Council, the arts community and the many people who have been part of The Centre,” Heatherington said. “It is a privilege to work with you all, and I will miss you as I refocus my time and energy on new adventures and on my family.”

The executive director of the Burlington Performing Arts Centre reports to the board of directors. The Centre will begin a search for its second executive director to replace Heatherington.

“Brenda brought to the Burlington Performing Arts Centre solid community experience, energy and enthusiasm, helping give The Centre its best possible start,” said board chair Allan Pearson. “On behalf of the board, I want to offer my sincere thanks. We will continue The Centre’s  positive momentum, presenting high-quality shows, excellent rental opportunities and leading theatre performance and education programs.”

In 2012, the Burlington Performing Arts Centre attracted 68,542 visitors. The Centre won the Award of Merit for Barrier-Free Design from the March of Dimes and received LEED® (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Gold certification for new construction from the Canada Green Building Council, CaGBC.

“The Burlington Performing Arts Centre is recognized as an excellent venue for culture and entertainment,” said Mayor Rick Goldring. “Brenda and her team, together with the board of directors, have done a tremendous job of making The Centre a place where the performing arts thrive and where people can meet and enjoy a lively downtown experience.”

The Burlington Performing Arts Centre’s mission is to provide the people of Burlington with a broad range of excellent performance opportunities that will both inspire and delight, delivering diverse, world-class arts and entertainment to the community and showcasing Burlington and its arts community to the world.

Editors note:

The Performing Arts Centre has been under consistent criticism by citizens of the city and some members of city council for the revenue short falls.  While council approved the budget for 2013 they also required both the Performing Arts Centre and the Burlington Art Centre to undergo full business plan reviews in the fall of 2013.

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The only really interesting thing at the Council budget approval meeting was the slugfest between Councillors Craven and Meed Ward.

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON  March 19th, 2013   Nothing changed but we did get a look at the way this city of ours intends to handle the development of its budgets in the years ahead; where the priorities will be and where the problems that need to be resolved are as well.

We learned that when Councillor Craven was first elected the annual shortfall on infrastructure maintenance was $6 million.  That was the annual shortfall more than ten years ago.  Craven now tells us that the annual shortfall is now $18 million annually – which put another way means we should be spending $18 million to get our roads up to standard but have not been doing that.

That is a mess that this Council hopes to get out of starting in 2018 when the hospital levy will have been paid down and the city can start spending serious money on getting the roads fixed.

Councillor Taylor meeting with staff to check up on some of the numbers in the budget binder. Taylor suspects the hospital has another big financial ask of the city up their sleeve.

Not so fast advised Councillor Taylor, who pointed out that the city’s $60 million to the hospital will cover phases 1 and 2 – he suspects there is a phase 3 out there which we will have to pay for.  No mercy for us at that level.

Council Craven decided the 2013 budget was one he would vote for – he didn’t vote for the 2011 or the 2012 budgets.

Councillor Meed Ward didn’t vote the 2013 budget but the rest of the crowd did, except for Councillor Dennison, who sent his regrets and was not present in the Council chamber.

That red light was a sign – Sound of Music didn’t get the $37,000 they felt they needed as fall back money if the weather turned on them and events had to be cancelled. Note that the pier in this 2011 picture isn’t visible because there was nothing to see. The city plans on officially opening the pier during the Sound of Music festival this summer. SOM should charge the city a fee for horning in on their event.

Had Dennison been at the horse shoe Meed Ward believes the Sound Of Music would have been given the $37,000 in fall back money they asked for.

Bfast, the city’s transit advocacy group asked that the 8% transit fare increase be deferred until there was a clear policy on new equipment acquisitions in place and when there was decent public input.  Other than delegations during the budget process the public was basically shut out of any opportunity to have some input.

Good debate on the why of the fare increase and the usual mumblings about better community engagement but come May 1st – there will be a transit fare increase.

Councillor Craven wasn’t flashing this smile at Councillor Meed Ward on Monday during the budget debate. It was getting close to ugly between those two

Councillor Marianne Meed Ward: She gave as good as she got in her slug fest with Councillor Craven during the budget debate

For reasons that were never clear Councillor Craven had a real “hurt” on for Councillor Meed Ward; they were slugging it out frequently during the evening.

The debate on the budget left things just the way they were at the committee level.  The good news was that the Burlington Teen Tour Band won the All-Ireland Championship.  The city had put a chunk of change in the budget for the BTTB – can we expect to see an increase of tourists from Ireland this summer?

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Taking care of business with a gentle but firm hand. Will Fielding make us the 3rd best managed city in the country?

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON March 14, 2013.     When city manager Jeff Fielding left London, ON, where he was also city manager, they were the sixth best managed city in Canada.  Little did the people in Burlington know that Fielding had every intention of getting Burlington to something better than the sixth best managed city in the country.

He has put together a program with McMaster University’s DeGroote School of Business that will have upwards of 200 people from city hall taking courses at McMaster.  Some of that 200 will come from the local boards, which is a great opportunity for people who serve in advisory capacities.

The curriculum for these courses, which are very close to an Executive MBA program, was put together by McMaster and sold to Burlington at a “very, very decent  price”.  One wonders if Fielding didn’t exact a price for the “dirty” McMaster did when they pulled the planned McMaster building program out of the downtown core and plunked it on the South Service Road.

Fielding also arranged for 20% of the curriculum to be under his control.  McMaster might know the fundamentals on executive management – but it is Fielding who really knows the municipal world.

A fifth of the classroom load will be courses directly related to municipal management.  If you have friends who work at city hall, expect to see less of them socially for the next while.  Probably less golf this summer as well.

It is now much clearer why Fielding was given the Award of Excellence from Western University’s Local Government Program Alumni Society.  That event wasn’t given all that much attention at the time other than the reference the Mayor made to it at a city council meeting.  Fielding’s colleagues in London clearly saw something that was worth recognizing that is going to be a significant benefit to this city.

City manager Jeff Fielding ran a tight ship in London, ON and is doing the same thing here. We are all going to be better for his time with us.

For Fielding the task he has undertaken amounts to a cultural shift in the way city hall is run.  Staff are currently putting together an inventory of the services they deliver and attaching a cost to each of those services.

Then staff will be asked to do a business case for each service delivered; what is it costing and what are we doing.  Senior staff tells of a service that was getting a 94% satisfaction rating from citizens yet city hall was still putting fresh money into the service.  “If you are getting 94% why are we spending any more money someone asked: because it was in the budget.   Ouch. .

That number is not his age, closer to the number of years he has been working in the municipal sector. Fielding is one of the better net-workers in the city; he can work a room as well as any of the politicians in the Region.

Fielding realizes that if you change the language you change the way people think.  So instead of talking about spending he wants his staff to think in terms of “investing” and then determining how they are going to measure the return on that investment.

If the return and the need for the service pass the business case test then Fielding wants to see the item included in the base budget.

That’s a different kind of thinking which Fielding thinks is going to require about 18 months to work its way into the minds of staff and onto the work they do.  Staff have, in the past, thought in terms of what has to be spent ever since the structure on Brant street was first opened – that was the way municipal people thought.

Fielding is saying to them; “There is a better way to do this” and he is in the process of showing his staff how to do it and investing significant dollars in the process.

Burlington’s boards, the Library, Performing Arts Centre, the Art Centre, the Economic Development Corporation and the Museums (did I miss any) are separate from city hall but attached to the place by the equivalent of a umbilical cord.  “The Boards are extensions of city council which delegates certain responsibilities and service delivery tasks to them but they are not separate in that they can just go their own way”, explains Fielding.

During the budget delegations this year the chair of the library board had her nose very much out of joint when city finance people began asking a lot of questions about their financial needs before their delegation to the Budget and Corporate Services committee which suggested that perhaps there wasn’t a full appreciation as to just what the relationship between a board and city council is.

City manager Jeff Fielding doesn’t win every time. Joe Lamb, negotiating for the Seniors’ Centre basically took Fielding to the cleaners with the deal he talked the city into.

Fielding who is a friendly, open, accessible but no pushover (except for the time the seniors worked him over)  and capable of coming down with a very firm hand.  He may appear to wear a velvet glove but don’t let that fool you.  There are a number of people at city hall who have learned that lesson.

Expect Fielding to have city hall align more significantly with the boards and work with them to develop connections between each other.  The Art Centre and the Performing Arts Centre should almost be sleeping with each other – they are looking to the same core markets for their revenue and could be looking for ways to share promotional and marketing expenses.

Last weekend there were more than 3,500 people running through the streets of the city; at 3 in the afternoon you could have shot a cannon ball up Brant Street and not hit a soul.  Why wasn’t someone putting together programs that would keep enough of that crowd in town for an event at the Performing Arts Centre.  And by the way it doesn’t have to be the PAC people doing this – no reason why someone couldn’t have rented the place and put on a show geared to the running crowd.  Then maybe put together dinner packages for this crowd as well.

We saw an example of how this works, in a very small way, with the private sector when the Different Drummer put a copy of a PAC promotional poster on his web site and then tied a promotion of a book on The Gruffalo performance to the books of the same name.  The Drummer ran a contest for four tickets to The Gruffalo performance; all you had to do was drop by the bookstore and fill in the forms.  The private sector calls that cross-promotion which Fielding just loves to see; expect him to push for this kind of initiative from the people he works with.

Ian Elliott, proprietor of The Different Drummer does these things or he doesn’t get to eat.

Our Mayor used to tell people that Burlington was the second best city to live in.  Now he says ‘everyone knows Burlington is a great place to live, work and play’ which are nice verbal bromides.  By the time he ends his second term of office he just might be able to say that Burlington is the third best managed city in the country.  THAT is something substantial and worth talking about.

Expect Jeff Fielding to pull it off.

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Do you want to get your council member’s attention? Put up a web site and hold a meeting – guess who shows up?

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON  March 9, 2013   Are things heating up in Ward 5?  At the Capital Budget debates in February, the suggestion that something bigger and better could be done with the Skyway Arena site if it were tied to the Lakeside Village  Plaza and offered to developers.  The words were no sooner out of the mouth of Jeff Fielding,  the city manager,  than Councillor Sharman, Ward 5,  was on top of the idea and talking about how he would craft a Staff Direction.

That caught the attention of people in the ward who are rather fond of their one pad ice rink and wanted to ensure their views were heard and that they would be at the table when discussions took place.

The SAVE SKYWAY ARENA website, with the headline:  Because city hall doesn’t listen to its residents, was put together by Ward 5 activist and former candidate in the ward James Smith, who is also very active on transit issues in the ward and president of the Friends of Freeman Station where he has been very successful in keeping that structure out of the hands of those who wanted to make kindling out of the structure.

Seems as if Smith has a bit of a track record in the community.  Is he lining himself up for another run at the Council seat.

We’re not opposed to improvements to Skyway Arena, just the opposite.  We’re not opposed to redevelopment of Lakeside Plaza, just the opposite.  We are opposed to City Hall arbitrarily deciding to close Skyway before  the community has its say.  We want the South East to be treated the same as the rest of Burlington.   It is reported that six people showed up at the community event, including the ward councillor.  The important thing, commented one person, was that the Sharman “for the most part did not attempt to take over the meeting.  The group also believes it won the “concession that any Request for Proposals or Expressions of Interest would include the ideas that we’ve drummed up – not his , and that community involvement will be part of the process.”

Sharman is reported to have done a lot of qualifying as to what the city can or can’t do and the impact of budget restrictions.  One obviously biased attendee said:  “No one came away impressed with the fellow.”  As one said after the meeting: “Sharman would not be listening to us unless you launched this – thanks”.

It looks like things are heating up in ward 5.



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Council member remuneration on the table – citizen’s committee will determine what pay rate should be for next term.

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON.  March 5, 2012. Now that they have said they will pocket that “massive” pay increase – a miserable 1.5%,  your Significant Seven have buried themselves for half a day over at the Performing Arts Centre to focus on leadership and team decision-making case studies.

IF they are returned to office next municipal election they will each earn 1.5% more than they are earning now. But there is little certainty that all will be re-elected. Two might not choose to run again and two are on less than solid ground.

Good idea to meet at the PAC – they own the place and they just might have to evict their tenant if they can’t come up with a Business Plan that meets the needs of the council members who have to roll with the ire of their constituents over the revenue problems at the PAC

The Monday meeting at the PAC is one of the Quarterly Governance meetings – something this Council put in place when it got itself organized back in 2010.  It was a good idea then and it has become a very good idea now that there is a city manager who keeps reminding his employers that there is serious work to do on the governance side.

During the budget debates it became clear that there was serious discord with the Boards and the office of the city manager.  Jeff Fielding has to come up with the money the boards ask for, but appears to have little in the way of input with the boards as they put together their budgets.

Carrie Brooks- Joiner, former chair of the Library board,  told a council committee during a budget delegation that she was offended with the procedures followed in the creation and presentation of the libraries funding requirements.  City Manager Jeff Fielding agreed that there had been some communications problems.  Expect this problem to get resolved before the next budget comes up.

The Boards, Economic Development Corporation, the Library Board, the Burlington Art Centre and the Performing Arts Centre along with the Museum Board eat up a significant amount of the tax revenue. Combined they consume $12 million + in taxpayer money.  The city manager would like to get a little closer to the way those funding requests are put together.

BurlingtonGreen gets funding as does the Sound of Music.  The Seniors’ Centre also gets funding as does the Burlington Teen Tour Band.

These are services the city provides and which most residents want to see in place,  but if it means a tax hike – well maybe the interest won’t be as high?  None of them generate revenue for the city and each has its own independent fund raising programs plus various fees and admission prices they might levy.

Our Burlington knew of the Monday Governance meeting and was preparing to attend when we learned it was a closed session which is permitted under the Municipal Act.  “The purpose of this meeting” said the notice on the city website “is for education and training and will be closed to the public in accordance with Sec. 239 (3.1) of the Municipal Act.”

The decision to close a meeting, as we understand it after talking to City Clerk Angela Morgan, is something the she can advise Council it can or cannot do.

The first part of the full  day session is to focus on leadership and team decision-making case studies that will be led by Gerard Seijts, Associate Professor, Ivey School of Business.

The afternoon Session focused on the way Council makes decisions.  It was facilitated by Linda Moore and Brad Quinn, a team that has done a lot of work with the city in the past.

The question that one wants to ask is:  Should the public have an opportunity to listen in on how city Council and senior staff go about making their decisions?     Is this meeting similar to the Pre-meets Burlington holds where decisions are made as to who will say what and when at council and council committee meetings?

It gets a little dodgy when the people who are spending public money want to close the doors and talk privately.  That isn’t to suggest for a moment that this Council is deliberate in wanting to keep information from the public but, the Mayor of this city has in the past decided,  on his own,  to not send media releases to Our Burlington because he didn’t like what we were saying.  He can do that if he wishes.  He did reverse the decision a day later.

There was a time when a very popular Mayor, Roly Bird, refused to talk to the reporter from the Spectator.  Politicians can do whatever they like – the one thing they must do every four years is face the people who put up the money that pays them to run the city.

During the budget debates the Budget and Corporate Services committee agreed to an increase of 1.5 percent in the remuneration for council members.  That increase however does not come into play until the next term of Council.

At the same meeting council decided to reconvene the Citizen Committee to review Council’s Compensation, Expense Limits and Staffing requirements.

The mandate of the committee would be to:

Set out recommendations for council member compensation.

What should be given in terms of expense allowances

What do they need in terms of staff and technical support.

Other matters including workload distribution and severance.

The committee will report to the Budget and Corporate Services Committee by October, 2013

The mandate sets out who is to be on that committee:  There are to be seven members on the committee with representation from the city’s bankers; someone from a local board; someone from one of the city advisory boards;  someone from the Chamber of Commerce; someone from community social services organization plus two Burlington resident – one each from north and south of the QEW.

People who served on the last committee that met in 2009 will be polled to see if they are interested in returning.  The city would like to see three or four of them return to provide continuity.

The city currently pays the Mayor $123,831 and gave him an expense allowance of $19,953.  The Mayor has in the past not spent all of his expense allocation.

Council members are paid a base of $53,214 and have an expense allowance of $9,000   Both the Mayor and Council members are paid by the Region for the time they spend there –  $ 45,827.  In addition Regional Councillors have an expense allowance of $5,130 per term.

The Mayor is also paid for meetings of the Hydro Board he attends as well as Hydro Committee meetings. He attends those meetings as Mayor; accepting payment is really “double dipping”.

During the beginning of this term of Council there were several deferrals of pay increases that had been approved by the Citizen’s Committee which was council reacting to public criticism.  Ideally the Citizen’s Committee will set the remuneration up in such a way that Council cannot defer

The Citizen’s Committee will, hopefully make use of the Citizen’s engagement Charter and meet with the public in each ward, without the presence of council members and explain the rationale behind their decision and then each year publish a public notice declaring that the raise in pay, if there is one, was determined by citizens.

Last time around council members didn’t have the courage to stand up behind the Citizen’s recommendation – they saw it as self-serving.  Spare them the opportunity to make themselves look both foolish and a little childish.

Most of these men and woman who you elected work hard.  If we want intelligent, educated people to lead us then we have to pay them accordingly.  You do get what you pay for.

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Tear down city hall – and the Arts Centre while you’re at it? Who said Burlington was called Borington?

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON.  March 4, 2013  This stuff is as dry as toast and watching paint dry is more exciting BUT, it is the stuff that is going to result in the foundation your city gets built on.

In Burlington, the Capital Budget is a ten-year rolling document.  They plan ten years out and advance the decisions  each year.  This year there are so many things in a state of flux that the city manager advised Council he will want to re-state the Capital Budget very soon.  The intention is to align the Capital Budget with the Strategic Plan.  Burlington now has a thoroughly thought out Strategic Plan that came out of more than five days of meetings spread out over a three-month time frame.  It was what council and staffs were able to do at the time – the city might be ready for a review of that plan – perhaps in the next term of council.

So- what is it that’s on the table from a Capital spending point of view for the city in 2013?

Well the Tyandaga Golf course is not seen as a revenue generator for the city and the land could, some think, be put to better use.  The city manager isn’t prepared to stake his reputation on these numbers but he thinks the club needs 23,000 new people every year to replace those that don’t return.  He adds to that,  the view of many golfers – that the club just doesn’t cut it as a fine place to play the game.

Ward 1 Councillor Rick Craven argues that the place could be managed better and they could think in terms of recreational uses during the winter months – like allowing cross-country skiing and maybe even an outdoor skating rink.  So – what does one do with that land?  Just asking was what we thought we heard the city manager saying.

Will we see additions made to city hall or will the site be sold to a developer – or perhaps the building could be torn down and turned into a parking lot?

City Hall is getting a very close look.  The city currently rents space in the Simms building directly across the street from city hall and that lease is up in 2016.  Legal and Finance are in the Simms building and it is not uncommon to see staff walking across Elgin Street with their arms full of documents.  Some are advocating for putting additional space on top of what already exists at city hall, while others think selling the building and putting up a brand new city hall is the better direction to go in.

When the suggestion about doing something with the city hall was put out, Ward 1 Councillor Rick Craven immediately suggested that Aldershot would be an ideal place for a stunning building.  Has he put a feeler out to the Paletta’s?

The sense was that if a new city hall were to be built it should be in the downtown core but no one identified what the boundaries of that core would be.  There is the space in the parking lot four between John and Elizabeth Streets that the city has been hankering to do something with for some time.

Here’s a WOW for you. Tear down the parking lot, put up a condo – then tear down city hall and build the parking lot on Brant at Elgin. Put commercial space at the ground level. Where would city hall go? Over on parking lot # 4 om John Street. – and while you’re at it put the Burlington Arts Centre in the same building as well. The capital budget meeting at which ideas like this got tossed around was quite the meeting. Is Burlington ready for this kind of growth?

Now try this idea on for size.  One of the city’s general managers asked: Why do I park my car in a building that is close to overlooking the lake.  The parking lot on Locust Street immediately south of the Performing Arts Centre is on pretty prime property.  What if that parking lot structure were torn down (yes it is fairly new) and the land sold to a developer for another condo much like the others spread out along Lakeshore Road?  Great views of the pier and Spencer Smith Park from that location.

Then tear down the city hall building and put the parking lot in that location.  What would the net cost be?   Councillor Dennison pointed out that what the city has spent in rent could have paid for an addition to city hall. The city needs more space for its staff who are currently in two buildings on opposite sides of  Elgin Street.

Whatever is built on that lot would be a multi storey building – think maybe 10 to 12 stories and could house the Burlington Art Centre collection on two – maybe three floors.  The ground floor would have all kinds of open space with the different guilds working away at their crafts that the public could look in on.  The world-class collection of Canadian ceramics could be on display and visible to the public.  They are currently in cardboard cartons in a storage vault.

The land the Burlington Art Centre is located on – Lakeshore Road across from Spencer’s on the Lake would be sold and have condo sites on it.  That BAC lot is very, very deep – something exceptional could be built on that property.

The Burlington Art Centre sits on some prime lakefront property.  The land is said to be worth $6 million and the Centre needs more space for its ceramics collection.  Maybe there is a better place for the BAC?  Perhaps in a new city hall built on parking lot #4 on John Street?

The BAC needs more than $4 million in upgrades to get their  structure and  HVAC up to scratch.  Some thought there was merit in selling the current BAC property, said to be worth $6 million for the land alone, and moving the Art Centre to a building that will go up on that parking lot everyone has eyes on but no one wants to invest in.

There were some pretty heavy ideas floating around. It got better.  The city manager has noticed that the Hydro property on Brant near Upper Middle Road is a large piece of land that, to use the language of planners, is under-utilized. It is much bigger than Hydro will ever use – there are ideas floating about as to how that property might be put to better use.

The city is about to take a closer look at what it wants to do with the Beachway part of the city.  The first steps in that process are finding an entrepreneur who wants to put something commercial in the old Pump House.  One young lady delegated to a council committee meeting and said she wanted to talk to the city about using the space to rent bicycles and paddle boats to people during the summer season.  If she adds a patio where Councillor Dennison could enjoy a glass of wine she’s got his vote.

The sign is the brightest thing about the shopping plaza.

The Skyway Arena in the east end has just a single ice pad which isn’t seen as very efficient. When this came up during the capital budget discussions the city manager asked how much tolerance the city had for risk and would Council give any thought to considering the idea of trying to make something out of a possible combination of the arena property, the library that is currently using rented space on Fairview and attempting to work out something with the owner of the Lakeshore Plaza that is in dismal shape?

No sooner were the words out of the mouth of the city manager and Councillor Sharman piped in with: “Consider it done and that resulted in a staff direction on which council can expect there to be a lot of push back from the residents of the community.

The Lakeshore Plaza is a bit of a dump with almost as many “For Rent” signs as there are actual occupants.  The Swiss Chalet is closed.  The theatre and bowling alley haven’t been used for years and the place has that sad, run down look about it.

A too small to be economically viable – the Skyway Arena is getting a close look from the ‘bean counters’ at city hall.  The city manager thinks there are some development opportunities.  The local community wants to be at the table if there are any deals made.  Could get interesting.

The Skyway Arena sits at the back of the plaza property – which is what got the city manager to thinking – what if the city made its property available to a developer and asked anyone interested to come up with some ideas.

Combining the Arena space and the Lakeshore Plaza properties would create a very enticing development opportunity.  The Skyway rink is currently a single pad which the city finds very expensive to maintain.  Two pads are much more economical.

Were a developer to come up with some housing ideas that would accommodate families – the city could create a community out there that would anchor the east end of the city, create a new community that would have access to the arena, that could be enlarged – add to that the immediate access to Burloak Park – and there would appear to be a win-win situation for everyone.

Save the Skyway arena didn’t lose any time getting the word out and making sure city hall knew who they were.  Is their Ward Council member aware of the group?

During the discussion Councillor Taylor, whose turf is in the north-west part of the city, piped in and suggested to his fellow council members that the community needed to be included in all this grand plan thinking.  That point seemed to have gotten lost.

It didn’t take long for the residents of the community to stand up on their hind legs and begin to bark.  Before you could say “Bob’s your uncle”, a group had a web site up with a headline saying  “Because Burlington City Hall doesn’t listen to its residents” .

So, while the capital budget itself is a pretty dry document consisting of how much gets spend on roads and then which roads, and then how many buses does the city buy and what size of bus – some of these decisions are for something that is going to happen eight years out.  Difficult to get people excited about what is going to get done that far out into the future.

What all this is leading to is a much more entrepreneurial look at the way the city develops its capital spending.  Those longer term spending decisions determine the shape of the community we get to live in.

Way back in 1985 city council approved a development on Lakeshore Road that is only now at the early stage of actual construction.  That decision approved a structure that will reach 22 storey’s into the sky line – something few people in this city fully appreciate.  Will it loom over everything or will it add to the skyline.  When the debates were taking place back in 1985 it was seen as a “landmark” building – will the community see it that way when it opens?

In her last delegation to city council the late Jane Irwin reminded them that many called the place BORINGTON.  That just might be about to change.


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Is there a “bigger picture” to the 2013 budget? What did council get done? They brought BPAC to heal.

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON.  March 1, 2013  What does the budget Burlington’s city council, sitting in committee, tell us?

Well, it looks as if we are now in show business and that transit is getting a boost. Those are the immediate impacts.  Longer term we have at least done something to bring a new focus and hopefully some hustle to the economic development side of the way this city is going to grow.

The show business part of the spend the city did, relates to the amount of money being put into the Performing Arts Centre and the Burlington Art Centre.  Neither of these in themselves are going to produce any revenue – both will be a constant draw on the public purse.

What the city has to do is ensure that both are vibrant enough to draw the audiences they need and that the spin-off from each provides the economic activity that will result in a more robust downtown.

While that might seem obvious on the surface – it hasn’t been clear to the Performing Arts management team, who, knowing they were going hat in hand to city council weren’t able to get useful data into their hands until Monday morning of this week.  The Performing Arts Board made its pitch on the Tuesday – which gave council members and the public less than 48 hours to pour over the 16 pages of very useful data.

Transit Director Mike Spicer, in the yellow shirt, shows Mayor Goldring what he wants in the way of new buses. The Mayor and council obliged and gave Spicer the go ahead to buy smaller buses.

When Mike Spicer, Director of Transit appeared before a Community Development Committee on Wednesday evening to delegate on the acquisition of new buses he was asked if he could merge two documents and get them to council members for the budget meeting the next morning.  Spicer went home and started work, his key staff members went home and started work and advised General Manager Scott Stewart what they were doing and where they were going.

They all gathered early Thursday morning, went over their numbers and passed along the document council needed.  Dedicated professionals doing what they do well.  They have the confidence of senior management and council – and as a result they got their funding and then some.

It’s hard to fathom why it took so long for the PAC people to get their data into the hands of the people who have to pay the bills that the PAC racks up. Time for an attitude adjustment over there.

The data isn’t bad but some of the rationale in the report they produced sounded like a bunch of people feeling sorry for themselves and sounding like they felt they were being put upon.

The document starts with:

We have been required to deliver higher numbers:

Increase our revenues

Increase attendance

Increase opportunities for local NFP clients (NFP is not for profit)

This industry demands a high commitment and dedication of staff resources to operate a 6-7 days per week operation where days can start at 7:00 am and end after midnight.

Every word of that is true – except that the PAC operation hasn’t been anywhere near 6-7 days a week.  In 2012 they were operational 209 days.

The PAC management argued for and were given the funding to hire a sales associate.  It was put in place for two years.

While several council members didn’t really buy the argument that an additional technical person was needed they went along with that funding request as well.

In asking for the sales associates funding PAC management explained the sales associate would:
Engage the community to generate new business which will increase attendance  and revenues.

Develop and nurture relationships with new and existing rental partners

Promote group ticket sales

Implement initiatives by working directly with the community to break down barriers to access and make sure we’ve made them aware of our services and available opportunities.

BPAC Executive director Brenda Heatherington talks up her operation with a supporter.

There isn’t a person in this city who doesn’t know all about the Performing Arts Centre – the problem is with what they know – management over there hasn’t gotten it’s message out.  In a fondly remembered movie Paul Newman said to a sheriff who was standing there with a shot-gun in his hands as Newman called out:  “What we have here is a failure to communicate.”  That kind of sums up where things stand with the PAC and the city. They need a more effective spokesperson.

In their report they trotted out a couple of equations.  Try these on for size:

ROI = Gain from investment – Cost of Investment

Cost of investment.

They later put this one out:

ROI = ($368,675 – $275,813) + ($320,810 – $273,783) – $63,600 = $76,289 – 120%

   $63,600                                                $63,600

I suspect that both Councillors Dennison and Sharman sputtered a bit when they saw those equations.

What PAC management was trying to say was that projected revenue for 2013 is $368,675,  with ancillary revenue projected at $320,810

Actual revenue for 2012 was $275,813 and actual ancillary revenue came in at $273,783

Cost of the sales associate was set at $63,600.

PAC management seems to see a 120% return as acceptable.  All they are bringing in is 20% more than their cost.  There isn’t a sales manager in this city that would accept a sales representative bringing in just 20% more than the cost of hiring the person.

Councillor Taylor got it right when he said the funding approved in the budget was conditional on the review of a new business plan from the PAC – “and I don’t mean a 10 minute delegation” added Taylor.  This one is going to be a getting into the mud with management and cleaning this mess up.

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City tax rate for 2013 – $16.32 for every $100,000 of valuation. They kept the tax hike to 3.46% with the hospitasl levy of 1% on top of that.

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON  February 28, 2013  “The impact per $100,000 CVA for an urban residential property is $16.32 with respect to the 4.46% city portion.”  Those were the words straight from the horse’s mouth – Director of Finance Joan Ford, who shepherded city council through a marathon city council committee meeting at which the budget was basically set.

It will go to a city council meeting and be cast in stone.  All kinds of detail to come but the basics are: Performing Art Centre got their money $225,000 to cover the short fall and money for two years for a technician (expect that to become full-time)  and money for a sales associate who is going to get behind and push to ramp up the sales numbers – especially on the rental side where the Centre fell very flat last year.

The Burlington Art Centre got the funding they needed to recast themselves and to figure out who they want to be, where they want to go and then how they will get there.  They didn’t get the chunk of change they needed to pay their staff what they felt they were worth.  That’s an ongoing problem they are going to have to deal with – and it might result in their losing some key people.

Finance department staffers excelled once again not only with the detail and the way they were able to grab numbers out of the air when questions were asked but with the way they presented the data so that council members could see the impact on the tax levy as they debated different sending requests.

Burlington Economic Development got the money they needed to come up with an organization that can attract new business to the city.  Burlington has reached residential build out – there ain’t no more land to put those housing projects on – unless we try to go north of Dundas- 407 and that is not going to happen.

So – find the analysts who can figure out what there is for us out there and then put a marketing genius in place who can do the work that has to be done to make Burlington a city that at least gets some serious attention.

Our Mayor can’t help himself when he says we are the greatest place in this province to live in but he has not managed to attract people to the city.  In some municipalities,  the Mayor is the #1 sales person and works the phones tirelessly to let people know why Burlington deserves a really close look.

That’s not the kind of Mayor we have – a Lee Iacocca he ain’t – so the city will have to find someone who can do the selling.

Transit got basically all it asked for – but you dear transit user are also getting what you didn’t ask for and that is a rate increase – 8% across the board with special situations we will set out for you later.

The fire department got an additional mechanic so that the fire trucks will be able to get out the door when the fire alarm is sounded.

The city manager has a pool of money that he dispenses to each department that is used as merit pay for staff that go above and beyond.  And many of them do.  The crew that pulled together the presentation of all the financial data, deserved no less than a double scotch or a bag of cookies – whichever they preferred, for their efforts today.

The ‘bean counters’ set up a computer that handled transactions and then fed the data into a second computer that projected the information on a large screen and also onto the monitors sitting in front of staff and council members.

Every time a decision was made to spend dollars the number would appear on the screen showing how much was spent and what that impact was on the tax bill.

It was a tough, tough day for Councillor John Taylor.  He sits on the board of the Burlington Art Centre and is passionate about the operation and the staff but he wasn’t able to get council to go along with an allocation that would allow Art Centre management to correct the significant imbalance between city hall staff and Art Centre staff salaries.

At around 2:30 pm it Councillor  Taylor who was chairing the meeting began to lose it.  He was deeply hurt when he realized the Art Centre staff were not going to get what he believed they deserved and that weighed on him.  He was tired and dis-spirited and suggested the meeting adjourn and come back to it tomorrow. His colleagues were not on for that and suggested he turn the chair over to Councillor Meed Ward and she ran the show for the balance of the meeting.

There were no delegations – this was council members dealing with the projects they wanted to see go forward.  Then Councillor Craven snuck one in and asked if the Director of Museums could plead for $7000 for a curator.  She got it – and Craven broke every rule in the Procedural Manual to pull that one off.

It was sort of like driving through a super market aisle and dropping items into your cart and seeing a screen with your total spend on it.  Throughout the day – the session went from 9:30 to 4:00 pm with a 25 minute lunch break – the number went up, then down, but mostly up.  As the budget session was near its end council members looked at the numbers and wondered where they could cut.  They had given out a lot of money, which they felt was needed and that old shave and pave spend kept coming back.  Councillor Dennison was merciless at getting every dollar he could grab.  He argued, again and again, that every dollar spent now was $3 saved down the road.

Council decided to take the $2.2 million in surplus from last year and put it in the tax rate stabilization fund and transfer funds to accounts to pay the bills out of that account.  The spending done amounted to $1,938,360 which when taken out of the $2.2 million surplus they had to play with – there wasn’t much to leave on the table.  Some would treat the difference as a rounding number.

In the closing minutes of the meeting Mayor Goldring wondered what the city was going to do for what he called “opportunity” money; those situations that come along and shouldn’t be passed on.

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Expect to see new, smaller – 25 passenger – buses in the streets of the city in the not too distant future.

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON. February 28, 2013  Transit is going to get a lot more attention in this year’s budget that it did last year when close to half a million dollars was sucked out of transit and put into upgrading roads.

Then a funny thing happened – city council and staff learned that the people of Burlington did care about transit – they had made it their number three concern in an Environics poll done for the city.

That was all it took for the bureaucrats to start looking at transit more seriously.

Having a new Director of Transit in place didn’t hurt either.  Mike Spicer took over from Donna Shepherd who retired at the end of last year and has gone on to retirement.

Every manager brings his or her own style to the job – Spicer is different.

The specifics on the budget will get debated at a daylong session Thursday.  At a session of the Community Services Committee Wednesday night we got a peek as to what the transit people are thinking – in a phrase – more buses and a fleet that will have more flexibility.

Burlingtonians can expect to see smaller 25 passenger busses cruising along city street if the excited talk coming out of the mouth of the Director of transit is to be believed.

While nothing is cast in stone – the gist of what is planned is the purchase of 12 – eight metre “cut-away” buses that will carry 25 passengers: 19 seated, six standing.

The information was in an Alternative Vehicle Acquisition that feeds into a larger report on transit that will be debated on Thursday.

The words fare increase are going to creep into the budget debates.

What was interesting was the approach council took as it met in committee.  They looked as if they were prepared to sign the purchase order on the spot before Councillor Taylor piped up and said: “the public hasn’t seen these buses and we haven’t done any trial runs or testing”.  Taylor wanted to see something in the way of community input, to which everyone nodded – ‘uhuh we want input from the public’.  Had Taylor not made a comment – my sense was that the public wasn’t going to have much in the way of input on this decision.  Meed Ward, the traditional champion of the people’s interests didn’t say a word.

The 8 metre, 25 passenger bus that looks like it is going to be cruising around the streets of the city sometime in 2014 can be seen in the photo.

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Performing Arts Centre board appears on stage; no kudos, no applause but a lot of questions.

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON  February 26, 2013  This time the Board members showed up.  This time they did the talking and didn’t leave their Executive Director to carry the flag by herself.  This time the two Board members said they are a start-up and that many of the numbers they used in their original rosy projections were short of the mark.  This time they apologized – well sort of.  This time they said they would talk to council members and do a business review well before budgets were being considered.   And this time they said that if the projections they had on the table today didn’t come true – they probably wouldn’t be the people appearing before the council next time around.

Keeping the lights on – and putting bums in the seats.

It was a healthy and very welcome change by a Board that has been high-handed and close to insolent to a council that very much wants them to succeed.

Today was budget delegation day and most, if not all of the Boards that are funded by the city, appeared before the Budget and gave it their best shot.  Some, the Burlington Economic Development Corporation (BEDC)  were there arguing for a stay of execution while the Library Board argued for the funding needed to pay for the staff needed to operate the new library in the Alton Village.

We will cover those budget requests in separate articles.

Richard Burgess, current vice chair of the Burlington Performing Arts Centre board explained why the Centre needs significant funding for at least the next three years.

Rick Burgess,  a former city mayoralty candidate, he was beaten out by Cam Jackson in 2006, a lawyer by profession and currently the vice chair of the Burlington Performing Arts Centre incoming chair of the organization along with Peter Ashmore, treasurer with many years of experience in the management of assets and the development of new enterprises.

It was difficult to get a handle on exactly what the Performing Arts Centre wanted in terms of real cash.  Councillor Taylor, who was chairing this meeting of the Budget and Corporate Services committee, complained about data being given to him the day before the delegation was to appear.  The real numbers will come out during the debate that will take place on Thursday.

It was clear that rentals was the biggest problem – the team just wasn’t able to rent out as much space as they had planned.  And, their original rosy projections, based on a consultant’s report turned out to be weak.

The Board directed management to cut back and that meant events that might have been put on were not put on which weakened the revenue stream.

It is now evident that there was a bit of panic going on as the Board struggled to get a handle on how it could support management – but all this was behind the scenes.

What was evident, clearly evident, was a council that did not want this venture to fail but found itself with not nearly enough information and basically out of the loop while the Board went its own way.

To say Burgess and Ashmore were somewhat contrite but fully aware that a newer more collaborative relationship was needed would be a stretch.  Just what they took away from the meeting is not clear – but know this – things are different.

Most disturbing is that Mayor Goldring and Councillor Craven sit on that Board and should have been fully aware of the problems and how severe they were.  The rental situation is one that they had to be aware of – does management not give the Board a report every month on how many events took place and how many seats were sold?  If they aren’t doing this – then this city has a major problem on its hands with the Performing Arts centre.

If the information was made available to the Board and the two city representatives did not convey this to their council colleagues – well that`s a pot with a lot of flame underneath it that is going to boil over at some point.

Councillor Dennison, who always brings his business acumen to budgets wanted to see the people on the marketing side given base salaries and then bonused for the added business they bring in.  Ashmore didn’t think they could pull this off with the staff in place now; truth be told, he didn’t appear to have any appetite for taking aggressive steps.

Some wondered if raising the ticket price would do the trick.  Burgess explained two fundamentals which council members did not appear to appreciate.  Upping the price of tickets for commercial events will increase revenue but it will also reduce the number of people who attend.

What isn’t as clear as it could and should be is this.  Does the city have a situation where they are dealing with what Peter Ashmore called a start-up that is having its teething problems or are there some fundamental problems with the business plan.

I suspect Ashmore isn’t certain as to just what it is yet and if the treasurer doesn`t know – then the Board members are a little adrift.  That`s not to suggest Ashmore isn’t competent; this is his fourth year counting the beans.  Entertainment is a different business; it is more art than science and they are still learning the ropes.

Councillor Craven explains that the Board has leaned some lessons and that management has also learned some lessons – which is good – but they are doing all this learning on the public’s dime and the fear is that they may fail and Burlington will be in the same mess Hamilton is with their facility.

There are solid, competent people on staff who have yet to get a solid understanding of the city and what it thinks it wants in terms of culture.   The city has an executive director, Brenda Heatherington,  in place who brings loads of experience on growing and nurturing the appetite for culture.  What she may not yet have is a solid understanding of the market she is catering to – the public letters between the city hall reporter from the Post and Executive Editor Brenda Heatherington’s response made that clear.

This story isn’t over – council will have a very focused debate on this later in the week.  What the city does not want to find itself having to handle is a facility that many in the city didn’t want that now requires a million dollar annual intravenous line to keep it alive.

If that happens Burgess was very right – it will not be him serving as chair for very long.

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Less than twenty people show up at the BAC for first peek at the 2013 city spending plan. City manager lays out the options.

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON.  February 5, 2013  Budget time for the city.  This is going to be a tough one for Burlington to get through.  The amount of money coming in is lower and the amount that different boards want to spend is higher and the city has some core decisions to make on what lines of business it wants to be in and what it might be able to get out of.

In a survey the city had done recently, (cost – $10,000) Burlington tax payers were said to be satisfied with most things and were compared to other medium and large organizations.

These charts compare satisfaction levels in Burlington with other Ontario large and medium size municipalities.

Each year the city invites the public to a presentation of the budget and asks those attending to take part in an exercise  that gives the room instant answers to questions asked.  Each participant is given a little device – sort of like a TV remote – which they use to indicate what they think about the questions asked.  The results are tabulated immediately. This process gives the city a first look at how the public – make that taxpayers – are reacting to the spending plans.

The audience this year was considerably smaller than that of last year when the fireman showed up in force – that show of force was almost intimidating.  There were about 40 people in the room at the Burlington Art Centre this year – of which 19 were public and 18 city hall staff or politicians.

Hopefully when the library opens in Alton Village next year the city will hold an event in the northern part of Burlington; those people have been left out of the loop for far too long.

This is where the money raised is being spent.  The amounts shown are for every $100,ooo of property assessment.  If your property is assessed at $300,000 multiply the numbers shown by 3.

With so few people taking part,  it was not easy to see a tend except for comments on the funding increase the Burlington Performing Arts Centre has asked for this year – and projected out for the next three years as well.  One citizen wanted a referendum held to decide if the place should be kept; a little too late for that question.

Burlington’s historical tax rates with Consumer Price Index shown as well as tax increases for other urban municipalities.

Transit was also an issue for some people. What was evident again this year was how quickly staff would dig out the specifics on a spending question a member of the public might have and how pointed most of the questions were.  Most people had “their” agenda and they spoke to that.

This is the dirty one. It shows the estimated renewal requirement for 10 years along with the 10 year budget – we are short by 60% + and if not caught up we will have to rebuild roads completely at a very significant cost.

Local boards want an additional $1.4 million.  The Economic Development Corporation wants $1 million.  Transit spending that was pulled from the 2012 budget shows up in 2013

This is where the money comes from.

This is the time line the city will work to for completion of the 2013 budget.  If they don’t make the schedule – not to worry – the treasurer has authority to mail out a tax bill.



The city is undergoing a very significant change in the way it manages itself.   Three new concepts are in the process of being introduced:

Results Based Accountability, a process that will measure outcomes and better manage performance.

Business Process Management, which is a much tighter look at evaluating the capacity the city has to improve on the services it delivers.

Service Based Budgeting, which defines the services being delivered and matching the value of those services to the budget the city chooses to live within.

The condition of our roads wasn’t a question but it was certainly an issue from the city’s point of view.  Last year $1.2 million was spent on a procedure called “shave and pave” that extends the life of a road considerably – delaying a very costly re-build.  Burlington expects its roads to last 50 years before they have to be completely re-built.  The amount to be used on road repair for 2013 was set at $2 million

The city collects money for the Board of Education and for the Region, which includes the cost of the police force.  Of every dollar the city collects – 60 cents gets passed along to others.

The public meeting was preceded by a city council meeting where City Manager Jeff Fielding outlined the issues as he saw them and added that he is going to have to recast the capital budget and would rather have produced a two-year forecast rather than the traditional 10 year capital forecast.

Burlington is moving to an “asset management” approach to the facilities they have.  They will use an approach called “life cycle costing” as they city moves into a stage where residential tax revenue will stall and commercial tax revenues will undergo a reduction until the city gets a better grip on how its employments lands can be better utilized.

The capital budget proposed amounts to $551 million and covers roadways, storm water management, facilities and buildings, parks and open space, parking, fleet vehicles, information technology and corporate initiatives.

Fielding explained to Council that he was going to be able to hold the tax increase at 1.85%, which he thought was pretty good given the challenges the city faces.  Where Fielding was gulping was with the growth items that would add 4.5% to the tax hike – an amount Councillor Meed Ward saw as “untenable” and no one else wanted to get attached to either.  Mayor Goldring did say at that meeting that 6.5% was not on but that there was going to be something more than the just over 2% last year.

The budget process got a little bumpy as well this time around.  Fielding thought part of his job was to comment on the budgets submitted by the local boards (Library, Museum, Art Centre, Performing Art Centre and the Economic Development Corporation) and was brought to heel by the Library Board when they objected to his comments on the way they were staffing for the new Library in Alton Village.

Fielding wants a “governance” discussion that will clarify his role.  He told the Council he serves that “we do have to have a governance discussion…the boards represent you at arm’s length. They have more power than I have as a civic administrator.  You gave them that authority to run the service and you look to those boards for the advice you need.  They did that.”

“You saw the push back from the library when we even asked if they could find the staff they need for the new Alton Village library from within their current staffing compliment.  You saw that they were offended.

Fielding wants Council to decide if he is to have anything to do with the budgets the boards produce.  He’s in a bit of a bind; he has no oversight but he has to find the money they ask for.  “If you change your minds and want me to do that work and review their growth items then you need to make that clear to me and also make it clear to the boards.”  We have a bit of a turf struggle going on here.  The city manager should win this one.

This is the third budget this council has delivered and it will be significantly different from the last two.  The Burlington Performing Arts Centre wants an additional $225,000.  The Economic Development Corporation wants close to $1 million to restructure.  The Museums came in with a different story and announced that they had raised close to $85,000 in grants and didn’t appear to need any financial help.  They do want $7,000 plus to convert a part-time curatorial position to full-time.  The Burlington Arts Centre wants a  $125,000 addition to their base funding in 2013 and the same amount in 2014 plus $45,00 to align their compensation with provincial regulations. Sound of Music is asking for $37,000 more.

The Burlington Performing Arts Centre needs a $225,000 touch up as well.  All these “asks” add up to $4.5 million which will add more than 4% to the tax rate.

Meed Ward isn’t on for this even though most of the people with their hand out are within her ward.  She talked of the “lived” experience her constituents have to live with where they are asked to “reduce spending by 2% to 5%” while Burlington has put in place an across the board 2% for the boards.

Councillor Craven, who can fume almost as well as Councillor’s Taylor and Craven, said he agreed with Taylor about the need to look at the budget numbers but disagreed with Taylor on where the changes have to take place.  Craven says the cuts have to be made by Council and that “we can’t continue to push this onto our staff. “It’s about leadership”, he said.

The focus for 2013 is going to be infrastructure and the hospital levy.  The others are going to have to learn how to cut corners.  The Performing Arts people are probably going to be told to use their reserve to cover the 2012 short-fall.

The Burlington Economic Development Corporation might take the biggest hit.  “I don’t know” said city manager Fielding, “if the Economic Development Corporation has a future going forward.”  That’s code for – polish the resumes fellow, the gig is over.  Fielding said this is “something her has to look at.”


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