City finance department will present what they are up against when determining the next tax hike. Will the seven people who have been elected to office twice manage to get even close to a 2% increase?

Budget 2017 ICON aaBy Pepper Parr

November 14th, 2106


The Gazette will be publishing a series of articles leading up to the first of the city council discussions and debates on the 2017 budget. This is the first of that series.

Back in July the Finance department gave city council a report setting out the parameters on which staff was preparing the 2017 budget.

In a report going to committee later this month staff outlines principles that have been recognized by Council as important policy decisions, as well as highlight budget drivers that will impact the 2017 budget.

In November 2012 Council approved the City of Burlington’s Long Term Financial Plan which outlined strategic objectives and policies to ensure financial sustainability and responsible financial management.

In March 2015, the BMA report provided recommendations that enhanced the existing financial policies to ensure fiscal sustainability and maintain flexibility to address changing conditions. BMA does a Municipal Study in which over 100 municipalities participate annually.  The study allows municipalities to compare their spending and there reserve positions with that of other comparative municipalities.

The 2017 budget will keep with the objectives and updated policies. In addition, in January 2016, 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 2017 budget year.


The city’s budget for each fiscal year is divided into two parts: the capital budget which is more long term and the operational budget which covers what the city expects to spend during a given fiscal year. Added into this is the surplus from the previous year.

2017 Capital Budget: Continued changes to the capital budget bring focus to infrastructure renewal projects. The capital budget continues to remain a 10-year program, broken down by asset categories. Any projects outside the scope of infrastructure renewal or the Development Charge program (growth) will continue to require a business case for Council’s consideration during the budget review process.

2017 Operating Budget: The operating budget will continue to focus on maintaining service delivery. Changes to levels of service will require a business case.

The 2017 operating budget will once again be presented in a service-based format with two years history for comparison. As service business plans do not dramatically change year-over-year, for 2017, they will not be included in the Operating Budget book. However, business plans will updated for 2017 and made available for reference purposes.

In their place, will be a service summary form, enhanced to include additional commentary by service owners on significant changes to the base budget. In addition, all business cases, both capital and operating will include commentary as to how the requested change aligns to one or more of the following items: City’s Strategic Plan, City Manager’s Work Plan, Departmental Work plan, Service Business Plan and any legislative changes that may take place.

This is the first year the operating budget will be developed using a new budget software system.
The 2017 budget timelines are expected to be similar to last year with a January approval of the Operating Budget. In future years the Finance department will be targeting more aggressive timelines which would bring both the Capital and Operating Budgets forward together in advance of year-end.

The proposed timeline for the 2017 budget process.

Capital Budget Overview November 21, 2016
• Capital Council Information Session November 24, 2016
• Public Engagement July – November 2016
• Capital Budget Review December 8, 2016
• Operating Budget Overview December 8, 2016
• Operating Council Information Session December 15, 2016
• Council Capital Budget Approval December 19, 2016
• Operating Budget Review January 19, 2017
• Council Operating Budget Approval January 23, 2017

The chart set out below highlights the results of Council’s comprehensive budget deliberations at both the City and the Region.


Over the last three years the average city tax rate change is 3.43% (including the hospital)

On the same November 21st agenda is a report outlining the Phase 1 Financial Plan for the Strategic Plan.

Burlington has always had a small group of citizens who get out to public meetings to review budgets, policy proposals and share ideas. In that regard we are fortunate.

Burlington has always had a small group of citizens who get out to public meetings to review budgets and policy proposals.  Rarely however does a budget get changed as a result of ideas from these meetings.  The city uses the occasions to determine if there is at least some acceptance of a proposed budget.

Public Engagement Matters: The city will take a two pronged approach to getting input from the public. Phase 1 will include online engagement opportunities through the use of the city’s two main online engagement tools – Mindmixer and Insight Burlington. Phase 2 will include a face-to-face opportunity for the public to learn more about the proposed Capital and Operating Budgets and provide their feedback in advance of Committee’s budget review process. The results of all public engagement will be reported back to Council in advance of the budget review process.

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. 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.

Financial sustainability is said to be the key strategic priority. The budget will continue to face rising pressure from infrastructure renewal costs, limited revenue growth, and completion of strategic plan initiatives representing visions to meet community needs. These factors ultimately impact property taxes and reserve fund balances to maintain existing service levels and quality of life.

Hamilton city council set their 2017 budget increase target at 2% with one member of that Council asking that it not be higher than 1.8%


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3 comments to City finance department will present what they are up against when determining the next tax hike. Will the seven people who have been elected to office twice manage to get even close to a 2% increase?

  • Stephen White

    What is clearly lacking in this process is a deeper level of detailed insight and review. Examining a high-level budget without drilling down to a finer level of granularity to identify anomalies and inconsistencies, and without benchmarking results against established performance standards, is, frankly, an exercise in futility.

    For instance: on the Public Sector Salary Disclosure Act there are 233 public servants in the City of Burlington listed as earning more than $100K per annum. Of this total 133 are firefighters. Compared to St. Catharines and Guelph the percentage and actual number of firefighters on the list is much higher. Why? To the best of my knowledge we haven’t had a major emergency or disaster since the train crash a couple of years ago. Is this due to overtime, and if so, why? Is it due to firefighters at the upper level of their salary scale?

    For instance: on the Public Sector Salary Disclosure Act we have one Director of HR and an Executive Director of HR. The combined salary total is in excess of $300K. Why two Directors in the same department? Look at other municipalities and you see one Director for HR but not two.

    Clearly, the devil is in the details, and until we start drilling down and examining the composition and make-up of the City’s budget it will be impossible to identify areas where savings can be realized and costs cut. What is very clear however is that passing on rate increases without searching for substantive economies will no longer suffice. There are too many people in the private sector who aren’t even getting 1-2% salary increases, and too many seniors on fixed incomes.

  • Phillip Wooster

    The data in Pepper’s chart tells the story–spending by the City far in excess of the Region and the annual rate of inflation. The Mayor and Council have long hidden their profligate ways by reporting the combined rate of increase–they continue to play us for fools. It is clear that this group of “tax and spenders” have no interest in financial accountability; there is no appetite to weed out wasteful spending by
    adopting zero-based budgeting within City departments.

    Editor’s note: It is incorrect to say “Pepper’s chart”. The chart came from a city staff report. I don’t make this stuff up.

  • James

    Here’s an idea. Rather than year after year of 4% tax increases to residents whose incomes are not climbing at the same rate, how about they re-evaluate their spending and find ways to make due with what they’ve got for a while? As a resident watching how City Hall spends our money, I know for a fact there is plenty of room for improvement. Maybe it’s time to take a hard look and prioritize spending, and cut out the waste. Believe me, there is a lot of waste. If the current officials can’t spot the waste, maybe it’s time to bring in a new crop.