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

burlbudgetBy Pepper Parr

February 3, 2015


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

  • Glenda Dodd

    Thank you for the update, at least I can count on the Gazette to keep me informed…..much more than I can say about our City’s Web site….do they even realize it was City Halls lack of notice and information on the meeting that was to blame for the poor turn out, not really the weather.