Council committee "miraculously" approves a budget in 3.5 hrs - now it goes to council for the rubber stamp

burlbudgetBy Pepper Parr

February 23, 2015

The creation of a municipal budget is complex – the work begins almost as soon as the previous budget is approved.

Each department sets out what it expects to need to deliver services.

There is an Executive Budget Committee that massages the numbers that come from the departments.

Joan Ford, Director of Finance - Finally!

Joan Ford, Director of Finance – Finally!

A draft is sent to Council members; the finance department takes council through an overview. Staff make sure all the Staff Directions from Council are included in the budget calculations.

Then the budget is taken to the public – this year poor publicity and bad weather did them in – there were a reported seven people in the room for a public review of the budget. There are usually close to 100.

The Capital budget usually gets approved first.

Council members are asked to review the budget and submit “Action Request’ forms which are requests by a Council member for consideration of a request for funding or for a request to have funding that was in the budget to be removed. There were a total of 25 budget action requests.

Councillor Rick Craven, centre, with a copy of the 2013 budget on a memory stick. Craven did a superb job of chairing the budget committee last year.  He will have no argument with candidate Henshell over the need for additional shopping facilities in Aldershot - getting themt there has been the challenge.

Councillor Rick Craven, centre, with a copy of the 2013 budget on a memory stick.

Councillor Craven had two; one for $600 to conduct another Jane’s Walk – which is basically a guided tour of the ward. Craven asked for the funds to cover this event as a one-time expenditure. He was given funds previously to conduct such a walk.

Craven also wanted $25,000 added to the base budget, which means the funding would be in place every year until such time as it was removed from the budget. The money was to cover the cost of a single park bench in each ward each year. The expense would be in the Parks and Recreation budget.

Where the debate on this one got interesting was the steps Councillor Meed Ward took to ensure that the decision as to where the park bench got placed was not left in the hands of the ward Councillor. The ongoing bad blood between Meed Ward and Craven was clearly evident – again.

What no one asked was – why does it cost $3000 to install a park bench?

Two years ago several council members got the idea to hold “car free”  Sundays in the city during the summer. The first was held in the downtown core and a second out in ward 5 where the event went quite well. The downtown core event was a total bust and wasn’t repeated the second year.

Councillor Lancaster got council to go along with a car free Sunday in her ward that went well enough. Held basically in the Alton community, a part of the city that is still finding itself, the event has the potential to create a sense of occasion in that part of the city.

Just hanging out on the street with the girls - a lazy summer afternoon in Alton Village.

Participants in the 2014 Car Free Sunday in Alton. These events look like they are here to stay.

So – for 2015 there will be a car free Sunday in wards 4, 5 and 6. A total of $10,000 was added to the base budget each year for these events.

Councillor Dennison, the only member of council with personal business operations of any size, always looks for ways to increase the business opportunities for the city. He has had his eyes on the Tyandaga golf course property for a long time. He wants the city to get out of the golf club business, arguing that there are more than enough private golf courses in the region (there are 9 in Burlington) and that the city doesn’t get real value for the money it pumps into the operation of Tyandaga.

Dennison will tell you that there is between $12 to $18 million to be had if some of the land was sold to a developer. When this was discussed last year Mayor Goldring referred to the selling of some of the golf club property as a “cash grab” – what was wrong with that? It would have paid for the pier embarassment.

Dennison withdrew his request and had the matter as something to be considered during the Strategic Plan discussions.

Dennison got Council to go along with one more cutting of the grass along the hydro corridors at a cost of $6000 The cutting would be done on a trial basis to see if the taxpayers thought it was a good improvement.

Dennison also tabled the idea of creating a services organization that would handle things like vehicle maintenance for both Hydro and the city. Burlington owns hydro – makes sense. It could make even more sense if transit was included. The idea got punted to the Strategic Plan review.
Jack Dennison does two things other Councillors don’t do – he at times “gets into the weeds” on issues. On one occasion we recall his telling a staff member some detail on the thickness of the wood in a building; he drives staff and his fellow council members bananas when he does this.

On the other hand Dennison is the Council member that comes up with the bigger bolder ideas; Tyandaga was one example.

This year he wanted to add $200,000 in revenue to the budget from what he was certain would happen – an increase in the investment returns the city earns. That one didn’t pass.

Ward 4 Councillor Jack Dennison always has an eye open for an economic opportunity - sees a great one for the city: sell the golf course.

Ward 4 Councillor Jack Dennison always has an eye open for an economic opportunity – sees a great one for the city: sell the golf course.

This year he also wanted to see $200,000 added to the revenue stream based on his belief that the number of building permits issued would be as strong in 2015 as they were in 2014. That one lost as well.

Trust Dennison to bring things like this up in 2016 when the budget is under consideration. And – you have not heard the last of Dennison’s attempt to sell some of that Tyandaga golf course property.

Councillor Lancaster seemed to be dumping on the cultural sector with her very pointed questioning of Dave Miller, Sound of Music chief, who wanted an increase in the base budget allocated to SoM each year.

Lancaster got Council to go along with a cost of living increase. Her concern with SoM is that it keeps growing – she wants it to remain basically the same but that if it does have to grow there be events outside the downtown core.

Lancaster, who used to have a business in the core, claims that restaurants do very well during the Sound of Music but that other retailers take quite a hit.

The Performing Arts Centre was down for $95,000 to cover the cost of student education. Lancaster thought this work could perhaps be done by the Student Theatre people.  Brian McCurdy, a man who knows how to protect his turf explained that by educating students the city is creating the arts audience of the future. He got his funding.

While Lancaster appeared to look like a bit of a cultural Grinch – it was her support, along with Meed Ward, that kept the Freeman Station in one piece while the community found a place to locate the structure where it is now being fully renovated.

It will be interesting to see if Lancaster can work with the Sound of Music to get some of the events up into the Alton community.

The “dean of city council” got clobbered during the creation of the 2015 budget. In both 2013 Councillor Taylor got well in excess of $75,000 for the BurLINKton community development program. The funds were to cover the staff that make the programs happen. In 2014 Taylor asked for the funding but only after promising to not ask for the funds a third time.


Taylor came close to having to beg to get the funding he wanted for the BurLINKton Community Development program.

This year he knew better than to ask for the funding he had been given previously – but he did ask for $10,000 as a “life line” to cover the organization until an expected grant comes in. Taylor came close to having to beg for the amount – he was literally jerked around by his fellow Councillors. Taylor saw the votes against him as “payback” for getting Meed Ward onto the Conservation Halton board.

Transit is always an issue when it comes to customer service and the price to ride the buses. An 8% drop in transit use from 2013 to 2014 reinforces the view of this council that no one wants transit – yet they continually talk about “improving the modal split” and getting people out of their cars.

The transit advocates claim the constant change in bus routes and schedules confuses the public and they give up on the service. More than $2 million is going to be spent on technology that will help transit understand who gets on the bus and who gets off the bus – the hope is that the data that comes out of the technology will result in service that meets the needs.

A glimpse as to how data can trip up the best of plans was seem when transit staff were explaining when taxi scrips had to be used to cover declines in HandiVan use. Turns out that if a person asks for a HandiVan pick up at a specific time – say 1:00 pm, to get to an appointment and the request cannot be met that is counted as a decline – the customer servioce request had to be declined – however if that same customer is told the HandiVan could pick them up at 1:15 the 1:00 pm request is still counted as a decline.

Meed Ward had asked that the $35,000 budgeted for taxi scrip funding last year and cancelled be put back into the budget to cover those “declines”. Bad data – bad decisions.

Meed Ward wanted to know what it would cost to re-instate the school specials – that was punted to the 2016 budget.

Meed Ward brought an interesting idea forward when she asked: what would it cost to create a free fare day one day a week for seniors? The idea got moved to the 2016 budget wen a business case will be presented.

You can see Meed Ward building her base for an expected run in 2018 for the Mayor’s job.

You can see Meed Ward building her base for an expected run for the Mayor’s job.The city has hundreds of bylaws and bylaw enforcement officers to tell you when you might be afoul of one of those bylaws. There are merchants in this city who know full well what the bylaws are but the will flout them on weekends nevertheless because they know there are no bylaw enforcement officers on duty weekends.

That might change – Meed Ward asked that a business case be prepared setting out what it would cost to have 24/7 and/or weekend evening bylaw coverage.

The creation of a budget by the city is a combination of things money has to be spent on and things the city would like to spend money on.

The construction of the Performing Arts Centre and the Pier were things the city wanted to spend money on. While Mayor Goldring ended up having the pier put around his neck like a rubber tire and then set ablaze – the decision to build the Pier belongs to former Mayor Rob MacIsaac and his Council of which Councillors Dennison and Taylor were members; Councillor Craven was a late comer to the pier issue

The collapse of a crane on the construction site brought to light significant problems with the design and the quality of the steel used. Those decisions were made long before Goldring was Mayor.

The Performing Arts Centre was very controversial when it was proposed and it went through two very awkward years once it was opened. Brian McCurdy was brought in to run the operation and he has done a superb job of improving attendance and bringing  in shows that the community wants – he has also done a fine job in making the space accessible to local performance groups.


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 is within the municipal sector a movement to involve the public long before the first draft of the budget is worked out. Burlington isn’t there yet.

In the months ahead city council will begin looking at its Strategic Plan. There will be an opportunity then to look at governance matters and perhaps there will be some energy and effort from different community groups who want to see some real and relevant involvement in the fiscal affairs of the city.

Budget public meeting - empty hall

The public didn’t show up for the 2015 budget discussions. Seven people managed to make it to the event.

Until then your city council will play games with the numbers, let petty politics get in the way of doing what is best for the city. Thankfully there is a group of intelligent, committed people in the finance department to ensure that the city is financially sound.

Return to the Front page
Print Friendly, PDF & Email

1 comment to Council committee “miraculously” approves a budget in 3.5 hrs – now it goes to council for the rubber stamp

  • John

    Councillor Dennison may find the selling of the Tyandaga golf course more expectable to council and the mayor if it was seen as a solution to other issues.

    It’s not a tax grab if we sell an underperforming asset and use the proceeds to help solve say, the backlog of infrastructure maintenance.

    Then again that same argument could be made for all publically funded facilities that underperform … art gallery… performing art center …

    Councilor Meed Ward has one voice as does the mayor. If she is planning on a run for mayor the effectiveness of her one voice as councillor will determine her chances.
    If she can’t demonstrate her ability to bring this council together her one voice as mayor would be no more effective.