Councillor Kearns has some strong views on how the Mayor's Budget is going to be put together

By Pepper Parr

July 4th, 2024

BURLINGTON, ON

 

During her lengthy ward meeting Councillor Lisa Kearns did much more than open the kimono.  We got to hear what she likes and doesn’t like – delivering a budget that has veto powers; the Strong Mayor powers; parts of which the Mayor is hanging on to are not what Kearns wants to see.

Note: This article is edited for length and clarity.

Kearns set out for her audience the schedule Council will follow in getting a budget passed before the end of the year.

Kearns pointed out that taxes are the lowest or on the lower side when compared bungalow to bungalow.

The following is from BMA, a consulting group that provides data to most of the Ontario municipal sector.

There is a little bit of opportunity to bring some clarification around the way  things are presented to be a little bit more transparent, because the assessed values are a bit different, said Kearns.

“But what does that mean when it hits your back pocket? So it’s a little bit different, even though we say, “Oh, look how low we are” it still stings a bit when you get your tax bill and we’ve yet to have reassessments. Just want to make a point of clarity, we haven’t had a tax reassessment on property assets since 2016.”

While Kearns didn’t actually say ‘this is another punch coming our way’ – it is going to hurt when it lands. Kearns said she believes the provincial government has put them on pause.

“This is the schedule that’s been tabled, and you’ll notice that there’s a  giant window called August to October At that point we don’t really have anything to work from.

“There are a couple of guiding documents, some concepts like affordability, future growth planning, infrastructure sustainability, but you don’t really know what’s coming out.

“This is going to be the time to hear from you about what you’d like to see in the budget. But we don’t really know what we’re working towards; I know that there’s some pressure coming down to bring working groups forward. I’m happy to lead one of those in my ward. I’ve had some kind of preliminary conversations around people who are putting up their hands to say, hey, I really want to get into this budget, and I really want to see some savings and see how the city is optimizing their resources.”

“We’ve brought a lot on board in the last number of years. We’ve just received a financial assessment report, and our debt ceiling has climbed and our reserves have lessened.”


“So we want to bring those two things a little bit closer. We want to build up those reserves again for the next councils, especially tax stabilization. I made a kind of oath to myself to never touch anything no matter how noble the cause is, if it’s coming out of tax stabilization reserve fund. No, nice to haves, no to anything. I don’t care. No, unless it’s like literally a burst pipe. We’re not touching it.

“The mayor has to prepare the budget based on what the financial forecast or Outlook is that will be prepared by staff. So old style, we get a big book from the staff, we bring it out to the community. Hey, look at this. What do you like? What do you not like?

“Amendments can be made to that. We’ve got about three and a half weeks between that budget, which is the real budget to work off of based on the municipal legislation, but a few weeks to work off of that and make some changes. Those are called motion memorandums

“My community wants a splash pad. We need a walking path here. Take that out. We’re not going to finance, you know, X millions of dollars towards this Community Improvement Plan.  That cannot wait; but they say they are going to do it incrementally. That’s when we get to have that bigger finance conversation.

“I’m hearing from the community that people want a monthly touch point where it’s kind of like open mic night on budget, and there’s a call out for a standing item. I just have to figure out how to do this procedurally, a standing item on all of the Committee of the Whole agendas related to the budget.

At the socioeconomic level BMA had this to say about Burlington.

Kearns: “my stress levels are through the roof”

“The budget is really hard to understand. I would call it like mumbo jumbo. Its 700 pages. It lands. You’ve got three weeks to eat through it. It’s so difficult. I know my stress levels are through the roof. I usually like lock myself in a room for those three weeks. It’s not healthy, and they can’t have great conversations, because it’s a lot to digest, to understand, and it doesn’t go by Ward, so I don’t have the ability to say, Well, what’s happening in my ward? We want to look through this.

“Maybe we don’t need this anymore, but this street really needs to get repaved. I know some streets want curbs; they want a proper walking sidewalk. Some streets are in protest against sidewalks. We need to have those conversations, and we need to have the time to have them. I’m hoping that we can kind of pull those priorities out, or at minimum, I can deliver a ward budget priority list that can help inform either of these budgets. So still looking through it, stay tuned.

“People are asking for a ward 2 budget working group. I can’t dip by myself, so I always invite you to come alongside me.

“We need a stronger lens on the actual changes in the budget.”

“Am I really going to override the budget? Probably not. It gets deemed approved. So little bit finicky when you get to that last part. But that’s all procedural based on the way that the provincial government has laid out how we do budgets.

“There will be delegation opportunities throughout the course of this, each time something comes through. But again, if you don’t know what you’re actually talking about, because it’s still locked up in political mumbo jumbo and a 700 page book, and you don’t know what they’re actually saving or who’s getting a new position? Have you got rid of any positions? Or do you just keep adding the positions?

“Think we need to have, like a stronger lens on the actual changes that are happening within the budget.”

Related news content:

How the budget will be presented.

Templates that will be used to present budget data

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3 comments to Councillor Kearns has some strong views on how the Mayor’s Budget is going to be put together

  • Blair Smith

    An addendum to the comment that I made to the first Lisa Kearns article – and apologies for its length.

    Today, my frustrations with trying to connect to the Clerk, Samantha Yew, or anyone in the Clerk’s Office, continued and were amplified. Again, I called, again I was put to Ms. Yew’s “personal voicemail” but, this time I zero’d out and went on a long, circuitous, automated messaging journey that finally (and with a 10 minute hold) ended with a live voice at Service Burlington. There I encountered a very well-intentioned customer service representative who explained that Service Burlington worked for all City departments and that if I would explain my issue then she would ensure that I was routed to the right place. I patiently but somewhat testily said that I knew where I wanted to go and to whom I needed to speak – I just was having a great deal of difficulty in soliciting any response, from anyone in the Clerk’s Office. She explained with equal patience and a small amount of verbal head patting, that I could not be sure that that was the correct place to answer my query but that she could get to the bottom of it. When she said that I realized that I had been soundly defeated. I obediently told her what I wanted, she recorded my request (to get the link to the Integrity Commissioner’s Annual Reports) and later I received an acknowledgement that I had indeed contacted the City of Burlington:

    “Dear Blair Smith,

    Thank you for contacting the City of Burlington. Your Committee Meetings, Agendas, Minutes, Reports and Videos request has been received by the city.

    We have noted the service address as XXX. and captured some details of your case: Customer is asking for the annual report of cases reviewed, cannot see it on our website

    If you have questions or new information to provide for this request, contact Service Burlington with the reference number CAS-289434-S7Q1H1

    The Service Burlington team is available to assist you Monday to Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

    Sincerely,

    Service Burlington
    905-335-7777
    city@burlington.ca
    http://www.burlington.ca

    Done and done!

    So, why this long preamble and the addendum to my original comment – simply because how citizens are “engaged” by the City is almost diametrically opposed to any form of ‘open government’ best practice and is years/decades behind standard protocols in other jurisdictions and more senior levels of government – and it is shameful. Shameful.

    All governments cede control of information grudgingly. It is the medium by which citizens eventually gain some measure of self-direction over decisions that affect their interests. Knowledge of ‘who does what’ within an organization is particularly precious because it allows the individual to target their concerns and reach those responsible to address them; it removes the anonymity that provides a cover to transparency of governance and accountability for acts and decisions. The Provincial Government has had a robust, information-rich directory of staff and organizational structures for over twenty years. A link is provided below:

    https://www.infogo.gov.on.ca

    It also has rather stringent customer service standards that are applied to all levels within the organization. It simply is not possible for an officer of the government to continuously avoid contact. And these standards and protocols have been in place for decades. Is the Provincial Government more responsive to the citizen? That’s a totally different question but it certainly has a much more transparent governance and organizational presence on display.

    The City of Burlington is an ‘open government’ and citizen engagement dinosaur. It provides multiple layers of protective buffer between those responsible for actions and decisions and their accountability to the public. It is a safe haven for institutional indifference and, in my opinion, arrogance. It could be and should be much, much different.

    When the current administration took office in 2018, it was provided with an ‘open government’ roadmap; a sequenced array of simple initiatives that would make Burlington the jewel of the ‘open government’ movement. Not a single initiative has been implemented despite much campaign rhetoric and populist promises.

    In most measures that actually matter, I believe that the City of Burlington is more closed and insular now than it was on October 28, 2018.

    A footnote – email protocols for an organization follow standard structures. Those for the City of Burlington staff are “firstname.lastname@burlington.ca” So, for example, the City Clerk would be samantha.yew@burlington.ca and the new General Manager/Chief Administrative Officer would be Hassaan.Basit@burlington.ca – this provided in case you want to make contact directly rather than through Service Burlington, as proposed on the COB website.

    • Gary Scobie

      The City of Burlington’s only rival in terrible engagement, communication and transparency is the CRA. It is hard to rank one over the other, they are both so bad at it and have had years to improve!!!!

  • Caffine

    If I am reading this correctly the full-time employees at city hall prepare a 700-page budget that cleverly hides all the facts where no one can find them and then our elected councillors get three weeks to look at the document. Isn’t this fraud or some other form of criminal behaviour? If it’s not criminal how have our councillors allowed this to go on year after year after year?

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