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

News 100 redBy Pepper Parr

June 22, 2015


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

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

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

Reserve and Reserve Fund Uncommitted Balances as at March 31

Reserves - Operating related reserve funds

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

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

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

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

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

Reserve - Capiotal related reserves


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

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

Reserves - Operating related reserve fundslio

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

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

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

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2 comments to City’s piggy bank is pretty full – nice fat reserves keep the Councillors happy – happy enough to reduce taxes?

  • Roger tipple

    A good informative article. Offers a good insight.

  • BCarlton

    To bad the City couldn’t have taken some of this excess and fast tracked the repairs to Nelson pool to make it available this summer.