Council offices, the Mayors Open Door and seeing taxpayers as revenue and city hall staff as an expense.

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON  September 27, 2011  The Mayor has always been on the eighth floor of city hall.  Up until very recently Council members were in dingy little offices on the ground floor where the windows were so high up in the wall that you could hardly see out and some councillors didn’t even have windows.

The space for the councillors and their assistants was moved to the seventh floorwhere there is more light and the offices are,while not spacious – they are decent and their assistants are all close at hand. There isn’t any sense of individual privacy for a council member by which I mean if you pay a visit to your Council member, every other council member can see who you are.  So if you’re looking for a confidential meeting – pick a coffee shop somewhere.

If you want to see your council member they ask you to call and make an appointment and they will have someone come to the reception area and take you to the seventh floor.  It’s a little awkward but security is a wee bit on the high side at city hall.  There was an incident at a city hall in the Niagara area I think, where someone went in with a baseball bat – and council across the province installed various levels of security.

What would be useful is a small meeting office on the ground floor where you could meet with a council member and enjoy a cup of coffee.  But we’re not there yet.

Mayor Goldring is constantly looking for new ways to involve the people he represents - next idea for him is going to be an Open Door day.

The Mayor is taking this meeting with the voters one step further and is going to hold what he calls an Open Door – his office is just “open”.

FRIDAY September 30th  10:00 am to 3:00 pm

No appointment necessary – just drop by city hall. Tell reception you are there to see the Mayor and you will get escorted to the top floor and have your meeting with the Mayor.  Please don’t take your baseball bat.

The city has installed a new telephone system that is going through the usual kinks and bugs.  One very senior person at city hall wondered aloud why the city would spend as much as it did for the new telephone system when people don’t use the telephone the way they used to.  My informant said that the bulk of his communication is by email and texting.  He might find that they’ve taken away his desk telephone and given him a megaphone.

In every business there is what the academics and the consultants refer to as the “core competency” – that is the one thing, sometimes several things that you are really good at – and the thing you are known for.

So what should the “core competency” be for the civic administration.  They are not a service you choose – you own a house, you pay taxes, you drive on a road and it is cleared of snow and that work is paid for by your taxes; but you don’t have much in the way of choice.  A city doesn’t have to do very much to get your business – they’ve got you.

So what is it that you have a right to expect from your municipal government?  If you don’t like the policies or the tax rate you can elect a new council member, but you don’t have much choice on the staff side of things.

Burlington has been talking about ‘improving’ customer service which is nice to know.  They have a web site – which is a bit of a challenge to navigate.

I want to pass along to you an experience we had when we wanted to learn more about the tax deferral plan the city has in place.  The subject of deferring tax increases for seniors that want to remain in homes they own but find that they face some difficulty with tax increases when they are on fixed income.  We will come back to what the various tax deferral programs are later – for the moment let us share our experience with city hall.

                     Your request for information for Property Tax Deferral for Seniors has been passed to me.

 May I suggest that you review the information on our web site.

 Click on City Hall

Click on Departments

Click on Finance

 Scroll down to Property Tax Rebates, directly below Taxation.

 The 5th item is a question and answer document pertaining to the Low Income Seniors and Low Income Persons with Disabilities Tax Deferral .

Directly beneath that is the application document.

 In addition, you will find information under the 3rd bullet for the Low Income Seniors Property Tax Rebate as well as an application for 2011.

 Once you have reviewed this material, should you have any questions, please contact me.


Customers have a way of telling you they are not being served very well. Are you listening?

Is this customer service?  I managed to get through to where the tax collector wanted me to be – understanding what I read when I got there was another matter.

If there is a senior out there who thinks the tax deferral program will help them and they want to know more, the information the city provides leaves much to be desired.  Most people will just give up.  I am on line for more than a third of every day and often well into the evenings and I didn’t find the instructions all that helpful when I finally got to them – there was the kind of information only a lawyer would appreciate.  What is someone who does not have much in the way of computer literacy going to do?

New offices for council members were necessary – they deserved attractive, bright offices to work in.  The Mayor is doing the right thing with his experiments in getting through to the people he serves.  City hall staff have a long way to go however to provide a user friendly web site and a level of customer service that respects just who the citizens are.  In the real world, the tax payers are revenue, city hall staff are an expense.  Which ones do you cut first and which one do you give the most attention?


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