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Getting public response to what City Manager calls a 'difficult budget'

By Pepper Parr

November 4th, 2021

BURLINGTON, ON

 

During the days before the pandemic got a grip on the world some members of the public would gather in a public place and go over literature on the budget that was being proposed.

There was never an opportunity to change any of the numbers but there were lots of chances to ask questions.

Carol Gottlob who was a candidate in ward 4 and Angelo Bentivenia a candidate in ward 6 – both lost the first time around – would show up for public budget meetings.

Attendance at these budget Public Information events was sporadic. During those occasions when there was to be a municipal election the attendance was very good.  People planning on running for council would all sit at the same table and busy themselves with how their candidate would manage the budget.

Those years when there wasn’t a municipal election coming attendance was sparse.

It was a cold winter night, snow was falling. The city had called a budget presentation event. No one showed up except for a couple of people who had run for office and wanted to stay in the loop. The Mayor hung around for a while then left. Staff packed up their equipment and headed home. The event took place at the Mainway community centre. Less than 20 yards away the arena was close to packed with parents watching their kids play hockey. The budget that set out how much of their tax money would be spent on recreation services was something they didn’t appear to be of or concerned about.

One evening, it was snowing and except for two council hopefuls – nary a soul showed up.  That evening right next door was a rink filled with parents watching their children playing hockey.

This time around the communications people are doing their best.

There were full day Council Workshops where Service Presentations were given by staff.  They were intense and took place on September 22, 23, 28 & 30, 2021.

Today the Budget Overview took place.  Staff set out what they saw as necessary and yes there were a number of asks as well.

A bit of discussion took place related to a position in the Clerk’s Office that was understood to be needed.  Discussion on that job came to a quick end  when City Manager Tim Commisso explained that the job had already been filled.

The FTE (Full time employee) number is going to grow by an additional 70 people during 2022.  That’s above the 14+ that are going to be hired by the Planning department – those 14+ positions will be covered by fees paid by developers to have their applications approved.

There will be a Virtual Budget Townhall to be emceed by the Mayor on November 22, 2021.

The CSSRA Standing Committee will do a 2022 Budget Review & Approval on November 30 & December 2, 2021

It all goes to Council for Budget Approval on December 14, 2021.

There is one rather interesting change to the way members of Council can influence the budget directly. There was in the past a BAR form (Budget Action Request) that members of council would fill in setting out where they felt cuts could be made or additions made.  Council members would use the BAR form to promote something they wanted to see done in their ward.

This year they are being asked to prepare and submit a memo setting out their rationale for proposed budget amendment(s).  This was to increased transparency for the public.  Those memorandums would be summed up reflecting all the proposed changes.

Those memorandums are due in the Finance Department by 4pm on November 23.

Not sure where the idea of the memorandums came from – it will certainly stretch the capacity of at least three current council members.

 

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