Going into a very significant month.

Your taxes and how you get heard are on the Council agenda.

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON February 22, 2011 – During the balance of February and all of March, city hall staff and your council will beaver away at the budgets, which will determine what you are going to be looking at when your tax bill arrives in the mail.  At approximately the same time staff will deliver its response to the Shape Burlington report, which if you recall had eight recommendations, the most important of which were an information deficit and citizens not being given a real opportunity to be part of the decision making process.  The Shape Burlington report can be founds in its entirety here.

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February 22Current Budget Overview at Budget and Corporate Services Committee; 9:30 am, Council Cambers

March 2Current Budget, Community Meeting/Workshop, Tansley Woods Community Centre, 1196 Itabashi Way, Rooms 1&2. 7-9:30 pm

March 5 –  Capital Budget – Community Meeting/Workshop, Burlington Arts Centre, 1333 Lakeshore Road. 9:00 –11:30 am

March 8 – Review Capital Budget at Corporate Services Committee; 9:30 am Council Chambers.

March 21 – Council to Approve Capital Budget; 7 pm Council Chambers

March 29 – Review and Approve Current Budget at Budget and Corporate Servce Committee, 9:30 am Council Chambers.

March 31 –  (If required) More review of Current Budget: 9:30 am, Council Chambers.

April 11 – Council to Approve Current Budget;


Let’s look at the two issues separately, even though they are very much joined at the hip.  The Budget.  Burlington has just come out of a four year period when the increases grew like topsy – on average more than 5% each year.  The citizens said ENOUGH and got themselves a significantly different Council in the process.  While Council members got used to working with each other, some differences of opinion on what the tax increase should be became evident.  Mayor Rick Goldring said he felt he could keep things at a 2.5% to 3.5% each year and not go above a total of 10% during his four year term.

That wasn’t quite the way Ward 5 Council member Paul Sharman saw it and at a Committee meeting that stunned several senior staff members, Sharman came out for a 0% increase in year 1 and said the Council represented the will of the people and that taxpayers wanted taxes kept low.  Zero percent is low.

At the time Councillors Taylor and Dennison seemed to side with Sharman but that support may have slipped a little. Blair Lancaster, Ward 6 tends to side with the more conservative side of the council.  Meed Ward , Ward 2, hasn’t found her sea legs quite yet and hasn’t let us know where she stands fiscally other then wanting to know what is being done with the money spent.  Craven, Ward 1, just wants to be sure that Aldershot gets its share and doesn’t lose any of what it has.

In the weeks ahead they get to do the line by line look at the numbers and each Council member will have to decide what they can live with in their Ward and what is best for the city.

One area that everyone is looking at is the cost of the bureaucracy.  Sharman wanted no increase in salaries but did want to see some form of merit pay.   The Mayor recently posted a piece on his Face Book page, in which another Mayor talked about some help from the province on reigning in costs at City Hall.  Was the Mayor giving us a hint as to where he is coming from?  Don’t think that link on his Face Book page was a coincidence.  And the province is in the process of pruning an additional 1000 senior people from its staff.  So, staff cuts are in the air and no one is going to complain all that much if City Hall staff take it in the neck for a couple of years.  There are a lot of households in the city that are still hurting from the recession and they feel that City Hall didn’t share much of the pain they went through.

And that gets us to – how the taxpayers get to make their point.  They get to vote every four years but society is now at a point where citizens wants input into decisions that are going to impact them directly and are no longer prepared to leave all that to the bureaucrats or the council members.

Meed Ward holds Community meetings and informs her fans with a Newsletter that is better than anything the city puts out.  The turn out for her events isn’t huge (25 – to 40 people) but she is clearly the most aware of what the voters want from their politicians.   She has senior staff coming out to her meetings to explain how things work and gives her constituents a chance to ask questions.  On that level – she can’t be beat.  Pity the politician that decides at some point to run against her.

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The Shape Report Recommendations

Engagement: Transform the City Hall culture to promote active citizen and civic engagement.

Vision: Shift City Hall processes to greater involvement of all citizens in a shared vision of our city.

Communication: Empower people by overcoming the communications deficit.

Trust: Improve the public’s trust and confidence in city government

Belonging: Build a caring and inclusive community.

Participation: Empower Committees and Community organizations that work for people

Youth: Reach out to the next generation

Governance: Define Roles and responsibilities


The Strategic Plan is a document in which Council sets out what it wants to get done in its four year term.  In the past that document has been worth less than the paper you printed it on.  This crowd isn’t going to produce that kind of a document.  The Strategic Plan is currently called Future Focus, and we are currently at the 7th version. The Mayor has plans for a much more ‘promotable’ name.  Staff and Council members have done their home work and taken part in several work shops that have helped them better understand how citizens can be more involved in the development of the Strategic Plan, which won’t be completed until sometime in September.   The Shape Burlington Report was the document that got this whole “more involvement” process started.  The recommendations were seen as so important to the people who were involved in the development of the report that they re-invented themselves as Shaping Burlington and have stuck around to make sure that both the bureaucrats and Council members deliver on the recommendations. Who are these people?

Not every Council member is all that fond of the Shape Report but two of those elected for the first time this term were members of the original group.  They are onside – to what degree only time will tell.   The mayor is onside intellectually.  Taylor and Dennison seem prepared to live with some of it.  Meed Ward doesn’t say much about it – she wasn’t invited to sit on the original group.  Craven isn’t the kind of Team player that was needed on the committee.

So you have a Council that has to respond to the public pressure and they have shown that they can listen and are capable of hearing.  Staff have learned a lot in the process and appear to be coming around.  They have met with citizens to discuss the document that will be made public on March 8th.  The document will certainly address many of the recommendations in the original report – will it give what is needed?  Do bureaucrats or politicians ever give away power?

The citizens of the city will have to decide if they have been well served by servants.  If the report is not adequate – will the citizens demand that it be sent back for a re-think?  Hmmm, this is Burlington, so let’s not get our hopes up too high.  That the report got written in the first place and that both Council and City Hall staff` have at least responded to the document is a big step forward.  Let us not falter at this point.

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1 comment to Going into a very significant month.

  • Rick Craven

    I find your comments about MMW to be interesting.

    “Meed Ward holds Community meetings and informs her fans with a Newsletter that is better than anything the city puts out. The turn out for her events isn’t huge (25 – to 40 people) but she is clearly the most aware of what the voters want from their politicians. She has senior staff coming out to her meetings to explain how things work and gives her constituents a chance to ask questions. On that level – she can’t be beat. Pity the politician that decides at some point to run against her.”

    Get some perspective my friend. We do all the same things in Ward One
    Rick Craven