Early municipal candidates give their views on the budget – three are no shows.

By Pepper Parr

February 8, 2014


For members of Council the biggest task they take on is determining how much of your money they want to spend.  They do this with the budget.

We decided a few weeks ago to track the thinking of the candidates who have filed nomination papers and ask each of them the same questions and publish what they have to say – with no editing.

We have not included the Mayor in this tracking – so far he is the only elected member of Council who has filed nomination papers.  Our intention is to put different questions to the elected members of Council – they have a position to protect whereas newbies have no responsibility for the budget that is about to be passed.

Katherine Henshell, ward 1 – did not submit a response to the questions asked.

Lisa Cooper, ward 3 did not submit a response to the questions asked.

Ian Simpson, ward 5, did not submit a response to the questions asked.

There are six candidates who have filed nomination papers.  Jason Boelhouwer was the first to get back to us – within a few hours, followed, days later by Alexandra Kubrak and John Sweeny.  We did not hear from Ian Simpson in Ward 5, Katherine Henshell in Ward 1 or Lisa Cooper in Ward 3.

Here are the questions we asked:

1:  Did you attend the public workshop January 29th

If you did – what did you think of the city’s presentation?

2:  Based on what you know of the budget what are the three main problems that you see and how would you address those problems were you a member of Council?

 3:  Based on what you know what were the two things about the budget that you thought were just great.  Don’t limit your responses – but appreciate that we all want people to read what you write – so be moderate in terms of length.

Given that the budget is THE document for municipal council members we were surprised that half of the people who have nominated themselves chose not to reply.


Jason Boelhouwer going through the city budget workbook at a table with Aldershot residents.

Jason Boelhouwer, candidate Ward 1:

Did you attend the public workshop January 29th? 


If you did – what did you think of the city’s presentation. One of the comments that was made seemed very relevent, these meeting should have been done before the actual budget was already set to go to Council for final approval.  I appreciate the difficulty in the timing but it seems that the timing makes this more of an effort to placate rather than to seek input.

 Based on what you know of the budget what are the three main problems that you see and how would you address those problems were you a member of Council?  Accountability, Priorities and Communications.  Having a more open and accountable budget and budget review process with results that are communicated to the general public will go a long way to making sure that people are informed and can have a sense of ownership in the things that the City is trying to achieve.

Based on what you know what were the two things about the budget that you thought were just great.  Don’t limit your responses – but appreciate that we all want people to read what you write – so be moderate in terms of length. The idea that the city is headed towards some sort of metrics for specific line items is great, they were very vague during the meeting but at least the conversation seems to have started.  Secondly I was impressed with staff’s willingness to discuss the shortfalls in maintenance of infrastructure funding and a willingness to start to deal with it.  I would have liked to hear how and why the situation was allowed to develop to the state that it is in – again communications and accountability could help this.  Overall the City seems to be willing to start looking at the operation of the ‘City’ in terms of running a service industry business.  Business’ have budgets, and the people in each of those departments should be held accountable for the results (positively and negatively)  as well as for how those results are delivered thus ensuring exceptional service is provided to all stakeholders.

 John Sweeny, Ward 4 candidate

1:  Did you attend the public workshop January 29th

John Sweeny on the left, goes through the proposed city budget for 2014 at public meeting.

If you did – what did you think of the city’s presentation?  I did attend the City public workshop on January 29th. My first impression on the presentation and format was that the staff had put a significant amount of time and effort in putting it together. There was lots of data however it was not presented in a way that would allow for open consultation. Unfortunately, I find this to be a consistent theme with public presentations from municipal (City and Education) organizations. The data was structured in a way that really limits the ability of the public to consider alternatives. It would seem to me that there are ways to present the information in a more simplistic fashion. This would include more closely matching costs and revenues.

As an example, there was a specific discussion about the “IKEA project” and the City finance team indicated that the cost was lower due to the application of Development Charges. I inquired if there was a direct link (i.e. The City won’t get the specific charges without the IKEA project) or if this was just an application of the funding. I asked a question to the team and it didn’t appear that there was a direct connection. I believe that these types of things are misleading and we need to be clearer to the public IF we really want input. And, “We SHOULD want real public input!”

2:  Based on what you know of the budget what are the three main problems that you see and how would you address those problems were you a member of Council?  In terms of my view on the main 3 issues that the City faces based on the content that I heard and my additional review of budget documents:

1/ Continued focus on the City’s Capital Assets to ensure their continued value and usefulness.

My initial perspective is that a long term program, as was presented, represents the prudent and reasonable approach. If I was on council,  I would work with the City staff to ensure that the information presented to our constituents was clear and concise.

I do wonder why the increase for this budget year is 0.75% when the remaining years it is 1.25%. I did inquire of one of the Councillors and the response was that it didn’t really have a significant impact in the long run. From the documentation it appears that it would take 1 year off the term which IS significant. My opinion is that this may be more of an election year issue which is very disappointing.

2/ Future revenue sustainability.

The continued revenue from “organic” growth with new development is not sustainable. Therefore alternative sources of revenue, likely from Commercial and Industrial expansion. We need to ensure that the City brings all possible resources to bear to support the BEDC in selling the City and “Closing the deals”.

I have an anecdotal story about an organization that was interested in making a move from Oakville to Burlington and was looking to take over a vacant piece of prominent (North Service Rd) real estate. There was an issue with storage at the property which resulted in them renewing their lease in Oakville. The real estate agent indicated that they have been having trouble with the property. I had to wonder if the BEDC was engaged with the opportunity would there have been an opportunity to overcome the objection in order to secure a net new long term tenant. If the BEDC was not engaged then we need to ensure that we have a future approach and process in place to bring all the power of the City to “WIN NEW BUSINESS”.

3/ Service Level Budgeting.

There was a question/comment raised about Zero Based Budgeting. The implementation of Service Level Budgeting will address some of this issue, without all of the additional administration of ZBB. However, the question of what service levels will be set was not clear. We need to have a clear set of baseline benchmarks in place to understand if the City is efficient and effective with our operations. I know as an example that the City of Toronto completed some benchmarking reviews of some of the core services. Are we incorporating this type of data in the process of developing service levels?

A specific example of this would be the request for additional funding for 4 firefighters. Given that the City is currently paying overtime to existing staff to cover the time shortage this would appear to be a very simple decision since each hour is currently at overtime pay rates (Time and a half?). What was not clear was if the service level across the entire operation was currently efficient or could resources be reallocated? Benchmarks against similar and geographically close municipalities would allow the City to be confident in our current level of efficiency and effectiveness. 

3:  Based on what you know what were the two things about the budget that you thought were just great.  Don’t limit your responses – but appreciate that we all want people to read what you write – so be moderate in terms of length.  A couple of things that are very encouraging:

The City current fiscal position appears to be solid. We have taxes that are below the average for neighbouring municipalities, the debt position is strong below both the City’s debt policy of 12.5% and well below the provincial mandate of 25%. Although with potential issues of future growth we need to be prudent to leverage this strength to secure continued growth.

I was also very excited to hear about the Insight Burlington initiative. If communicated, implemented and used effectively this would be an excellent opportunity to “take the pulse” of the community.

This was the first session like this that I have attended and overall was impressed with the process and the level of data that appeared to be available. It did result in many more questions still outstanding and in the future it would be valuable to have more of these sessions over time to provide for a feedback mechanism. As a Councillor there are likely better opportunities for more “back and forth” dialogue with the City staff, we need to ensure that the public has this opportunity.  

No Sound of Music Money from this candidate – and she gets indigestion when she sees the big bucks the city wants to pay some new staff.

Alexandra Kubrak: Ward 4 candidate:

After reviewing the budget and hearing the concerns on the matter through the fellow participants, I found the overall presentation on the proposed budget items fair and balanced. The city is doing well to consider the needs of not only the inner workings, but every resident within Burlington. The balanced approach creates an equal treatment of resident needs and infrastructure requirements. However balancing such needs can become troublesome when the allocation of funds are spread thin to appease everyone. 

Three main concerns I had with the budget are as follows:

1. The addition of two high-priced positions of Heritage Property Planner and the Manager of Cultural Services

2. $44k increase of the Sound of Music Festival

3. The revision of sidewalk plowing 

Looking at the proposed amounts for Heritage Planner and Manager of Cultural services, I was surprised to see a six-figure salary of each. I maintain that every position should be fairly treated based on the average dedication and knowledge you must have to carry out the job. But looking as such positions, with relative understanding of the average salary of a Burlington resident, decreasing such an amount by even $25k each would allocate those funds for better programs. Asking $128k for a Manager of Cultural Services and $103k for Heritage Property Planner seems quite steep when you consider the position would be filled by a current Burlington resident, or locally known expert. at even $80k for each position, that is still a very fair sum for any employee to have. Especially with the deficit as it is, such positions cannot be overly lavished. Again, more information must be known about the positions and what they entail for the city. However shaving off almost $71k between both positions would create gains for more necessary services. 


Sound of Music will get no sympathy from Alexandre Kubrak were she to be elected a Council member. She thinks the event should be looking for additional sponsors – she’s not the only one with that thought.

The increase of $44k in funding for the Sound of Music festival is a great idea. However that amount can come from outside sources not just the city. Working within the music industry for a brief period allowed me to understand the massive amounts of funding festivals and music galas need to raise in order to put on a great show. The Sound of Music festival has many options to find addition funding going outside their comfort zone and looking for bigger and better sponsors to maintain or even exceed the quality they have had for 20+ years. The festival generates a lot of revenue for the region, as well as is recognized by the province as a great festival to participate in. Festival organizers should be approaching larger corporations outside of Burlington-area companies (i.e. Molson, Scotiabank, TDCanada, Sleeman, Technology Companies) for larger funding opportunities. In recent years many Toronto-area festivals have allowed larger corporations in on sponsorship and presentation of festivals only to have their events turn into large-scale and profitable internationally renown festivals that suit the needs of the local and global audience. Again more information on the goals of the festival committee and the current strategies have to be considered before going ahead. 

 The revision of sidewalk plowing to reduce the amount of need is a bit negative. As is, many areas including war 4, have to wait longer than necessary to have sidewalks and even street plowed of snow. This causes more than inconvenience, but serious injury risks and access problems. Ice, snow, and sleet can cause many elderly people to be stuck in their homes for quite some time, with little to no access to services they may need. As well reducing sidewalk plowing can also cause issues with children walking to local schools. The risk of injury and death from walking on roadways increase when sidewalks are not plowed. I would recommend using the amount shaved off the additional manager positions be put towards increasing the response times and coverage of plows within the city. 

Although these three items may be negatives for me, there were two positives I saw within the budget presentation. 

Committing 562 million to infrastructure over ten years may seem like a lot, this needed is very wise. Both IT, roadways, economic development, and the like all need to be upgraded as we become and increasingly networked world. The need to create a better flowing city is needed to keep up with the new needs and interactions of every resident. Though the backlog has created an bit of a deficit issue, the proposed increase in taxes was shown to be fair and based upon a balanced structure for every resident. This type of competitive property tax scenario has obviously worked in other larger cities, Burlington must adapt to this model to maintain the high level of services we have been known for. 

Secondly the restoration of city transportation routes is proof the city listens. For years Burlington has had less than acceptable levels of public transportation, the reduction in services in lesser used areas has only caused greater problems for residents who use those routes on a frequent basis. The only way to offer expansion is by providing every citizen a way to get around. The demographics in Burlington are split, thus the need for public transportation has always been high. As well, the recent trend towards a greener city means public transportation is a necessary option to provide residents with a cleaner, more fuel effluence way to get around. Restoring such routes will only enhance the city as a great place to live, work and play. 

Overall the public budget that has been presented has been fair. However more information on the background of such amendments is needed with the documents to keep the public informed as to why these changes are necessary. 

Background links:

Jason Boelhouwer 

John Sweeny

Alexandra Kubrak


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