Does this city council have the political will to reign in the spending. Operational budget to be debated on Thursday.

Budget 2017 ICON aaBy Pepper Parr

January 19th, 2017



City council will be meeting as a Committee of the While (COW) today to go through the Operating Budget; they have already decided on what the Capital budget is going to be.

The number floating around city hall at this point is an increase of 4.6% which is resulting in serious heart burn on the part of those who pay taxes and pay attention to this kind of stuff.

One of those people is Tom Muir, an Aldershot resident who has been tracking the goings on at city hall for more than 25 years.

In a recent note he sent to the members of council, the city manager and the city clerk Muir had this to say:

“I’m not going to repeat myself too much from last year, but the percent increases for the city are still on track to double in about 19 years or less.

“I wrote Council last year and the response I got was that they were concerned about it too, and were going to work on it over the coming year. Well, here we have the results. You still don’t get it.

“The city assumed inflation rate is 2%, but my pension increase, based on the CPI, only went up 1.4%, as did my wife’s’.

Muir making a point

Tom Muir, an Aldershot resident who has been delegating to city council for more than 25 years – he is relentless.

“In the Mayor’s December newsletter, he said that he thought the budget could be whittled down to something more like the 2%.

“I worked in government for 33 years, and went through a lot of budget cuts. The way it was done, if the guv was serious about it, was just to tell the managers and the finance people to cut the budget across the board to meet the target expenditure increase.

“No nonsense or sacred cows, except entitlements. Don’t get lost in every line item. Just do it at the high level.

“Then managers cut where you want, but just make the cuts.

“This is what is needed now. The idea that there is nothing left to cut is absurd.

“It’s all in the approach and the political will.”

Ward 5 Councillor Paul Sharman responded to Muir with the following:

Intense to the point of making delegations uncomfortable ward 5 Councillor Paul Sharman does know how to drill down into the data and look for results.

Ward 5 Councillor Paul Sharman was once a hard driving member of Council. He all but man-handled his fellow council members into a 0% increase in 2010.

“You will appreciate that City operations and assets are quite complex. ‎ You also know from participating in DC (Development Charge) review committees that assessment growth has subsidized growth and Infrastructure renewal costs in the past, neither of which are reflected by inflation indicators.

“Of course Burlington assessment growth is quite low now, meanwhile we are trying to recover from decades of underfunding of future infrastructure repair and renewal, which is a substantial driver of cost.

Sharman MMW tangle

Councillor Sharman, with his back to the camera, going at it with Councillor Meed Ward at a 2011 Strategic Plan meeting. He was a different council member in those days.

“Certainly, we are aware that pension income does not increase at the same pace as either inflation or the overall architecture of city finances. ‎The city is driven by long term fiscal sustainability objectives. That discussion is not over yet, but we are trying to figure it out.

“I would suggest that we fully “get it”. I will be pleased to discuss the situation with you at any time.”

How much confidence do you want to take from those statements?

What is perplexing and at the same time interesting is that when Councillor Sharman was involved in budget deliberations in his first budget meeting during his first term of office he drove the budget increase down to 0%.

He was merciless. There were a couple of general managers at the time who were incensed with his approach – Sharman couldn’t have cared less. He wanted a 0% increase and he kept pushing until he go it.

That Councillor Sharman seems to have morphed into a different person.

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3 comments to Does this city council have the political will to reign in the spending. Operational budget to be debated on Thursday.

  • Stephen White

    I have two questions: 1) what office is Tom Muir running for (i.e. Council or Board of Education)?; and 2) where do I send my campaign donation?

    Clearly, he has provided the most incisive, intelligent and reasoned analysis in his postings over the last few days. I’m impressed…and when it comes to Burlington politics I’m not easily impressed. We need more people with his intellect, persistence and backbone in politics.

    Kudos as well to the Burlington Gazette for providing him with a forum to express his thoughts and ideas. Doubtful readers would ever see this kind of lengthy evaluation or review in the Burlington Post.

    With all the great posts and comments provided by so many concerned, sincere and angry residents over the past few months it strikes me that it would be nice if this energy could somehow be channelled to a higher purpose. Perhaps it is time to foster an open forum and discussion about forming a political coalition to elect some new blood to Council. It would be interesting to run this idea “up the flagpole” to see if it garners any interest.

    • Tom Muir

      I meant to respond to this idea before now, but I support your idea, and if you succeed in getting traction count me in.

  • James

    Sharman has indeed morphed into a career politician whose mindset has shifted from when he first started as a Councillor. It has been an interesting albeit disappointing transition to watch. The same can be said for Meed Ward. They came in like a breath of fresh air but as they approach the 8 year mark, need to be exhaled like the rest. Once they’ve fallen into that political public sector mindset, where paying 4 times as much for something than the private sector would have paid doesn’t so much as raise an eyebrow, they’re no good to us.

    I don’t doubt that someone reviewing the budget in detail can get lost in the weeds at times, but ultimately it comes down to this: We have this much money coming in; We have this much money going out; What’s the balance? If that number is red or has a minus sign in front of it, you need to pull out your calculator, get back to work, and find ways to fix it. Asking for more money though tax increases is the easy way out and makes the citizens of Burlington pay for City Hall’s lack of fiscal responsibility. Only problem, we’re not your rich uncle, we don’t have unlimited resources, and given everything else that’s going on in this province, we have our own financial challenges we’re trying to work though.

    The fact that Council can’t recognize the wasteful spending, or can but aren’t willing to put up a fight, is most concerning. I have to agree with Tom Muir: They just don’t get it.