Council sticks its neck out to bring people downtown to shop. Big dollars in parking revenue will get away

News 100 redBy Pepper Parr

December 4th, 2020



It was an amendment to the parking bylaw submitted by a Council member to be heard during a full Council meeting.

Matters like this are usually dealt with at a Standing Committee where the heavy lifting gets done.

This one was a doozy and it had a level of urgency if one was to believe the Ward Councillor who put it forward.

The parking bylaw had already been changed at least four times this year.

Council learned that the revenue to the city from parking pre-Covid was between $90,000 and $100,000 a month.

That is not chump change

Meed Ward - tight head shot

Mayor Meed Ward saw the debate as “sausage making”‘ and ‘grass roots democracy at its best.’

Mayor Meed Ward said the decision to allow the item – it was not on the agenda – was partly because “We love grass roots democracy – adding that these things should be brought to Standing Committee first.

Ward 4 Councillor Shawna Stolte wasn’t comfortable either; she wanted to defer the matter to sometime next year. “I am bothered” she said “that this did not come to committee.”

Audit Kearns 5

Councillor Kearns took a pass on taking her amendment to Standing Committee – went straight to Council – and got away with it. The issue was urgent.

Councillor Kearns explained that there was a significant degree of urgency – the downtown merchants were looking for every advantage they could get and wanted to see a program that encourages people to come downtown to shop by offering them a deal they couldn’t turn down.

The urgency of course was put very well by the Mayor who said “It’s Christmas time”.

Kearns wanted council to pivot from a decision they made a few months earlier (when they agreed to end the Free P program) and respond to a changing situation at a time when speed is essential.

Nisan - just shirt

Councillor Nisan didn’t want to see a possible $300,000 hit to a reserve fund hung around his neck. Said it was a ‘lot of money.’

Councillor Nisan asked: How would this work if we were to implement it?  He clearly had not read the Kearns memo.  He later said he “would take one for the team” then later said he wasn’t “going to put that one on my shoulders” – eventually saying ” this was too much money – a possible hit of $300,000.

He was right – there is a big risk.

Council eventually decided to  change in the parking bylaw that would give everyone coming downtown an additional 90 minutes of parking once they had put as little as a quarter in the parking meter.

Once a driver figured out just how this worked they would realize that they could add another quarter and get another 90 minutes free. There was nothing to stop someone from parking all day long for a buck and a half.

Angelo B

Councillor Bentivegna – spoke for the small independent business owners who were struggling.

Ward 6 Councillor Angelo Bentivegna, who has positioned himself as the spokesperson for the small business sector was direct and blunt when he said: “There are 440 businesses asking you to do this – they are asking for your help now.”

Other Council members had issues with what was beginning to look like a Council Advisory Committee – the Downtown Parking Committee (DPC) crafting a bylaw and expecting it to be rubber stamped.

The Burlington Downtown Business Association wanted the change made as well.  Odd though that Brian Dean did not personally delegate – unusual for him.  He sent a letter.

Mayor Meed Ward was making it very clear that by-law decisions were made by Council.  She was “not on for being a rubber stamp.

What members of Council needed to know was “can we do this”? When it comes to where is the money comes questions – this council continually turns to City Treasurer Joan Ford who explained that the city decided some time ago the downtown merchants would not be required to provide parking spaces for their customers.


City manages parking – using money that comes from the downtown business people.

The city would provide parking lots and space on the streets – operate them and collect the revenues.

The merchants would pay a parking levy that would appear on their tax bill.

Any surplus between what it cost to run the parking operations would get put into the reserve funds – of which there are now three.

The Parking Reserve fund is one of the healthiest in the city with a balance of $9.56 million.

The finance people are in the process of splitting that healthy and hefty balance between three new reserve funds it was to create. One reserve fund would be for growth – money needed to build new parking lots; a second would be a reserve fund that would be used for renewal and a third available as a Parking Stabilization fund to cover those occasions when operation costs exceed the revenue in any one year.

So there was plenty of money in the various parking reserve funds and there was a very healthy cash flow – as much as $100,000 a month.

Now the merchants wanted the city to give the parking away during December – and at the same time arguing that this was not an extension of the Free P parking program that got to the point where it was so badly abused that the merchants asked that it be shut down.

COVID changed everything. The merchants and service providers were looking for every advantage they could find – the 90 minute parking bonus looked like a good fit.

The concern was – how long would this parking deal last ? If the financial hit was going to be in the $100,000 a month range – how many months was the city prepared to give up that kind of revenue?

Councillor Nisan (Ward 3) began to see close to half a million slipping away if the 90 minute bonus program ran for six months.

No one appeared to be on for that much basically free parking. Certainly not for the best Canadian city to live in.

snakes and ladders

The motions, amendments and amendments to amend began to look like a game of snakes and ladders.

At that point in the debate, the Councillors got into one of those snakes and ladder games where there were motions, motions to amend motions and motions to amend an amendment already on the table

The game has friendly amendments that sometimes work. At other times there is a motion with the mover unable to find someone to second it.

They played this game for close to an hour and finally arrived at a point where the new program would be in place until April – and it would be a pilot program with a clear end date.

Determining that end date was a struggle.  The idea was to change the bylaw and look at the data and if the data said the program was working continue with it.  If it wasn’t working – put an end to it.

The parking the city has in place is a pretty sophisticated set up. There is a small electronic puck in every parking spots that tells the traffic operations people in real time if there is a car in that spot.

Thus the city knows how many people are parked on the street or in the parking lots and what the churn is – how long do people stay in a parking space.

This kind of data keeps a wide smile on the face of Councillor Sharman. He will tell you that with the right data you can solve any problem.

The understanding was that the traffic people would run their numbers every day. And while it wasn’t specked out as to just who they would give this data to – it seemed that City Manager Tim Commisso would be the receiver of the information and telegraph it to the mayor and her colleagues.

Brian Dean 2 long

Will BDBA Executive Director Brian Dean get to see the parking data daily?

No mention as to when the public would hear about this and it wasn’t made all that clear that the BDBA would get a peek at the spreadsheets either. They are in place as a local board with a mandate to promote the area as a shopping, dining and entertainment area.  They are also  a chartered member of the Downtown Parking Committee whose members contribute $300,000 annually via their tax bill as a Defined Parking Area levy.

The issue was – can the city afford to let $90,000 to $100,000 slip out of its hands every month?

Councillor Sharman made it clear that that wasn’t going to happen; he wanted to see at least three month’s worth of data which meant the program would run to at least the end of February

There are approximately 1598 individual parking spots.  City parking operations have to adjust and pivot to reflect the new realities of commerce during the pandemic.

The recommendations were examined and discussed at length, and by vote of the majority, DPC voted:





This was basically a 3-2 vote – not a ringing endorsement is it?

Councillor Sharman got pretty close to reflecting the chance Council was taking. He was content with seeing what the data had to say at an April Standing Committee meeting.  If along the way he said it is clear the parking bonus wasn’t working “we will stop it fast”.

Treasurer Joan Ford pointed out that the budget is going to have to reflect what happens.

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4 comments to Council sticks its neck out to bring people downtown to shop. Big dollars in parking revenue will get away

  • Luke McEachern

    Pandemic Parking Downtown Business area support
    Councilor Nisan asked: How would this work if we were to implement it? He clearly had not read the Kearns memo. He later said he “would take one for the team” then later said he wasn’t “going to put that one on my shoulders” – eventually saying ” this was too much money – a possible hit of $300,000. Today.
    City business owners impacted by a very real and immediate existential threat in a part of town he campaigned to support.

    Deep Energy Retrofits
    Councilor Nisan pointed out that “we all supported climate change – and now we are fussed about $300,000. There will be a reward. Sept 15
    So that a business plan could be developed for a College Departmental Project?

    Clearly the Climate Emergency funding is more of a priority.
    This despite the fact that the Deep energy retrofit wants to have us all walking everywhere by 2050 or riding electric buses.
    Wasn’t he also part of the crew dancing after the city received funding from the federal government to purchase 12 new diesel buses over 3 years?

    Councilor Nisan has demonstrated yet again he can suck and blow at once.

  • Rob n

    What does it cost to park downtown per hour?

    Two dollars?

    You spend that much on gas to drive there.
    Your coffee probably cost that much.

  • Rob n

    spending a couple of dollars for parking doesn’t decide where I will shop.

    What matters is: does the store have the product I want at a price I am willing to pay?

    And how do I know what stores those are? Through marketing.

    If the downtown stores are depending on free parking to draw people, that’s a very poor marketing program.

    I wouldn’t vote for free parking, unless it’s subsidized by the downtown businesses.

  • Cathy Lb

    If the signage reflecting real time usage in parking lots is not working, are the “pucks” still collecting data?
    Signs have not worked for many months, causing great frustration for drivers looking got a parking spot
    City staff continue to look at ways to amend this long outstanding matter but don’t expect any resolve for some time
    This is a nasty problem for the small businesses downtown who need customers