How to reduce the tax bill - stop collecting leaves and eliminate a right hand turn lane. Don't give the fire department a drone.

News 100 redBy Pepper Parr

January 18th, 2019



Before they broke for the Christmas holidays a city council that had been sworn in just ten days earlier asked staff to sharpen their pencils and tell them how they would reduce the 2019 budget increase to 2%, 3% and 3.5%.

The budget they were looking at was coming in at 3.99% – and they didn’t want to have to swallow a number like that.

Council also asked staff to tell them what the impact would be of removing the 1.25% infrastructure tax levy for the 2019 budget.

Part 1 – 2019 Operating Budget Options

The options presented below largely result in decreased funding to the capital program. It is important to note that any changes to the dedicated infrastructure levy impacts both renewal projects as well as new projects in the capital program. The city’s asset management plan is about the long-term management of our existing infrastructure.

New capital assets add to the city’s base inventory and therefore increase our funding requirements for renewal needs. If we are unable to sustain our existing portfolio of assets it is recommended that we limit future expansion and/or new infrastructure. Continued investments in new or expanded assets compound our inability to financially manage our infrastructure.

Staff have provided this memo for information and have attempted to communicate the future challenges and impacts that each of the options pose.

Option A – 3.25% (0.74% tax reduction from 3.99%)


Options for service reductions are:

• Elimination of the loose-leaf collection program.

o Ongoing operating savings of $450,000 (0.28% tax reduction) and approximately $45,000 of average annual renewal costs for the replacement of equipment.

o Allows for 2,400 staff hours to be reassigned to other program areas including parks, trails, sportsfield maintenance, and road maintenance.

o Allows for winter snow fighting equipment to be ready in November. Currently only one weekend of turnaround time between leaf collection and winter work.

This crew will probably not be clearing the leaves from your property. They were working along New Street when this picture was taken.

Can Burlington afford to be collecting the leaves?

o Loose-leaf collection is not always completed due to onset of winter weather. This frustrates residents and challenges staff to convert equipment over to snow fighting in a timely fashion.

o Results in reduced greenhouse gas emissions from equipment operating for 6 weeks and trucking by contractor to Halton Waste Disposal site. Currently leaves are collected and trucked to a central area and later picked up by a contractor who transports them to the Halton Region transfer station where the city pays a tipping fee to dispose of the leaves.

o Halton Region provides bagged yard waste every other week from April to December.

o In lieu of this program, the city would promote more environmentally friendly options including mulching leaves on site or composting at home.

o Reduced service to residents

o This will increase collection of bagged leaves by Halton Region Waste Services.

o Will require extensive public education / communication.

• 2019 capital program reduction of $750,000 for new infrastructure (0.47% tax reduction).

o Results in ongoing reduction of funding to the 10-year capital program of $7.5 million.

o The list of 2019 projects that would be impacted are:


Should this option be considered, an amendment to the 2019 capital budget would be required for the projects identified above. Future years would need to be amended as part of the 2020 capital budget.

Brant at Elgin

Nothing vital about putting the elimination of that right hand turn on hold.

The removal of $7.5 million of funding from the 10-year capital budget and forecast would limit the city’s ability to address any requests for future new infrastructure. This would constrain future investments to implement recommendations resulting from the integrated transportation mobility plan, cycling master plan, school closure opportunities, and enhanced neighbourhood amenities such as splash pads and skate parks.

Option B – 3% (0.99 % tax reduction from 3.99%)


In addition to the items included in Option A, a further service reduction option is:
• Further reduction of $400,000 of funding to the capital program for new infrastructure (0.25% tax reduction).
o This would result in an ongoing reduction of funding to the capital program and require the removal of an additional $4 million of projects from the 10-year capital program.
o The remaining new / enhanced project meeting this dollar threshold is:

4th Elgin St Prom

Should this option be considered, an amendment to the 2019 capital budget would be required for the projects identified above. Future years would need to be amended as part of the 2020 capital budget.

Pathway outside the Poacher

The Promenade is to stretch across the downtown core – and when that core has undergone all the high rise construction it might be something to complete – but not now.

The Elgin Street Promenade is included in the Core Commitment Implementation Strategy as a short term initiative to improve active transportation in the downtown and enhance the connectivity of existing pedestrian and cycling connections to the Centennial Multi-use Pathway and the Downtown Transit Terminal through the creation of an enhanced promenade with landscaping and pedestrian facilities that meet Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities (AODA) guidelines. The first three phases of this project have been competed. The final phase of this project is planned for 2019 and extends from Pearl Street to Martha Street.

The completed Elgin Promenade will create a significant piece of downtown infrastructure through an east-west pedestrian and cycling corridor that provides opportunities for active transportation including cycling connections, access to transit, walkability and accessibility and brings significant social, environmental and economic benefits to the downtown core. The promenade connects the downtown to the Downtown Transit Terminal and the Centennial Multi-use Pathway which extends northeast across the City.

Without funding for this project, the final phase of this project can not be completed and the objective of connecting the east and west sides of the downtown through a safe, accessible cycling and pedestrian connection will not be realized.

Option C – 2% (1.99 % tax reduction from 3.99%)

5th the 2% option

In addition to the items included in Options A & B, a further service reduction option is:

• Reduction of $1,610,000 of funding to the capital program for renewal (1% tax reduction).

o This would result in an ongoing reduction of funding to the capital program and require the removal of $16.1 million of renewal projects from the 10-year capital program.

Should this option be considered, an amendment to the 2019 capital budget would be required for the projects identified above. Future years would need to be amended as part of the 2020 capital budget.

The Asset Management Plan is built on the premise of being able to address the city’s infrastructure needs at the right time in the asset’s life cycle and in the most cost-effective manner. This is vital to ensure that city assets continue to provide a standard of service that residents expect and to minimize long-term costs.

Resurfacing a road at the optimum time results in a cost of 1x. Delaying this treatment begins to compromise the base materials, escalating costs to 3x the original value. Further delay results in the street requiring full reconstruction at a cost of 10x the original value. Removal of funding to the local road resurfacing program will result in sub-optimal timing of construction and cost escalation.

Deferring the renewal of community centres will also result in an increase in the total long-term costs to the City. This includes increased operating and maintenance costs as the facilities age as well as increased risk of system failures impacting service delivery. Recent examples of emergency facility closure include Appleby Ice Centre in December of 2018 and Nelson Outdoor Pool in the Summer of 2017.

Part 2 – Impact of removing 1.25% infrastructure tax levy
Staff interpreted the direction to include the impact for the 2019 budget year only with future dedicated levy increases continuing.

At a high level, the impacts associated with any reduction or removal of the dedicated infrastructure levy includes:

• Impact on the city’s asset management financing plan and the city’s ten-year capital program. Removing the 1.25% dedicated infrastructure levy for 2019 removes the equivalent of $2 million of capital projects (renewal/ new) in the budget year, and $20 million worth of capital projects over the ten-year capital program as the levy has a cumulative impact

• The removal of one year of funding leads to an unsustainable funding plan.

• An increase to the city’s unfunded renewal needs, meaning a backlog of renewal projects beyond the 2016 amount of $126.5 million that will require immediate attention. It is important to recognize that it is possible for the Unfunded Renewal Needs (URN) to grow to a point where the possibility of tackling the immediate requirements and continuing to keep pace with current needs will not be possible due to capacity constraints and unreasonably high financing requirements.

• Deferred maintenance and deferred renewal is inevitable. The result will be an increase in the total long-term costs to the City of Burlington by way of;
o increased operating and maintenance costs to prolong the life of the asset from accelerated infrastructure deterioration

o Increased rehabilitation costs due to deterioration beyond the life of the asset

o Escalation of capital costs due to required higher cost rehabilitation treatments

o Emergency, unscheduled maintenance due to system failures impacting service delivery

o Passing costs to future generations to manage existing assets
• Infrastructure renewal investment is crucial to replacing and upgrading assets to better adapt to climate change

There is a considerable amount of room to get a budget that is very close to inflation.  It will take some courage for these council members – but they asked what was possible and staff set out what will be lost if the proposed budget is changed.

Do we really have to have the leaves picked up?  Does the Fire Department really need a drone?  Does that right hand turn elimination need to be done now – and why would we spend a dime on the Promenade when the downtown core is going to begin to become a decade long construction site in the not too distant future.



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15 comments to How to reduce the tax bill – stop collecting leaves and eliminate a right hand turn lane. Don’t give the fire department a drone.

  • Allen Jones

    As a tax payer, the various options as laid out in the above article are refreshing to see so we know that the city is at least looking at “options.”

    Unfortunately, we / Council can nickel and dime ourselves to death and still not solve the problem of out of control costs i.e. taxes.

    As the Burlington Gazette noted (below) council will need to have courage in putting an X beside many of the “nice to haves” and really not knowing, in the scheme of things ,what they are Xing out.

    Lets face it Council is made up of normal folks who can’t possible understandable all the implications!

    Or (as I am a fiscal responsible Liberal) Council should consider putting across the board cuts on all items and let the creativity of the various department managers look at realistic ways to reduce costs. i.e. zero base budgeting as any real business often does to make their shareholders happy!

    And lets remember Mr. Ford is now looking at that option! So lets do it and not be told to do it.

    And for Petes sake, obviously no more grandiose Burlington pier projects ….

    “There is a considerable amount of room to get a budget that is very close to inflation. It will take some courage for these council members – but they asked what was possible and staff set out what will be lost if the proposed budget is changed.

    Do we really have to have the leaves picked up? Does the Fire Department really need a drone? Does that right hand turn elimination need to be done now – and why would we spend a dime on the Promenade when the downtown core is going to begin to become a decade long construction site in the not too distant future.”

  • Marshall

    The trees that cause the huge number of leaves at my place are the two maples owned by the city. Several hours are needed to get the leaves to the curb before the city spends about 10 minutes collecting them.
    I cannot compost 20-30 bags quickly enough to prevent rain damage to their bottoms nor will the Halton workers like the greater than ten minutes to load them into their trucks. I guess the city could cut down their huge trees and plant smaller ones or we could have permission to burn them.
    Unfortunately, the present system is the best solution.

  • Stephen

    Lonely Taxpayer, Ok if we are going to talk about paying for services we actually use (and need), how about I receive a credit for not actually having any children (no reason for education taxes)? How about not having called the police or fire department or ambulance in the last 20 years (no reason for police services)? I have visited the hospital in the last 5 years from suffering a heart attack so I’ll pay more for that. That seems fair.

    • Stephen

      Should be directed to Perry … Not Lonely. Sorry

      • Eve St Clair

        It appears that the photo is of private contractors blowing and removing leaves off a townhouse complex . City workers do not blow leaves off the boulevard . Perhaps the Gazette could search for a proper photo of actual city workers instead of driving around and randomly choosing contractors to pose as City workers . Nice way to stir up the masses .

    • Lonely Taxpayer

      Stephen – I’m all for leaf removal. My comment was related to the disproportionate number of workers (7) to blow a small pile of leaves in the photo. I physically rake up & bag a pile that size by myself. Without LOUD leaf blowers.

      Leaves left to rot in the street stink. And that smell gets on your shoes when you walk through them. They are also slippery and clog the sewer drains.

      I would assume the workers do park-grounds maintenance and snow removal for most of the year and only do leaf collection in the fall. So they are paid whether they blow leaves or not.

      Trees are nice – clean our air – provide nests for birds – and are messy with their foliage.
      If we want them (which we should) we need to allocate the money to take care of the leaves.

      But paying 7 workers to blow a cubic meter of leaves into a pile seems like a waste of labour.

      • Stephen

        Not sure where the photo comes from. It is unfair to critique the workers IMHO. I spoke to the crew doing the leaves this year. Said what a great job they were doing. There were 2 trucks lined up on our street. A large front end loader loading piles of leaves into the truck. One guy on the road with a shovel and one guy with a blower. Nobody in the trucks or the loader got out. They were very efficient. The large scoop on the front end loader went along the side of the road in the gutter after the guy with the shovel pushed the leaves onto the road from the sidewalk. The FE loader rapidly pushed the leaves into a big pile while the guy with the blower directed the truck into position. The guy blowing then followed up getting all the odd leaves. As the truck filled up another went into position. Other trucks were arriving. Considering the 5 foot piles of leaves on both sides of our street … it took about 10 minutes for them to complete the length … about 800 m.

  • Chris Ariens

    A lot of short-sighted “cuts” being bandied about. I live in North Burlington, and am glad to pay less than $7 to have leaves picked up once a year (South Burlington residents get leaves picked up twice). I’d probably spend about the same for the paper bags to bag them myself, not to mention the labour to bag and collect them. The leaf collection program is money well-spent.

    Really the majority of the increase, as well as the repurposing of the hospital levy, is for infrastructure – which is primarily roads. And that’s just 2 years after raising the funding level for roads by $20 million for shave & pave in 2016. The “reality” that we have such a high number of cars per capita, carries a tremendous cost. We could probably double our taxes and still not have enough to afford to maintain all of our automotive infrastructure to the standards residents expect. That’s what happens when you make the automobile the only choice for getting around in a community. Few residents are able to make use of less expensive options.

    Having to put up with unsafe conditions while walking around downtown isn’t doing local businesses any favours. We can’t keep putting off things like finishing the Centennial Walk indefinitely, and waste the local and federal tax dollars that have already been invested in it. And that goes hand in hand with the downtown transit terminal. If we plan to make major investments in transit, it doesn’t make sense at all to postpone the complementary investments in pedestrian travel around the station.

    There are more important things than allowing cars to rush through the core. People are still coming downtown even if there’s construction going on in a few places. Improving the public realm and making it a safer place to be and walk around is something that will encourage people to spend time and money, keeping shops afloat.

  • Perry Bowker

    Ditto disagree on the leaf collection program. But why should all taxpayers cover this service for a few? How about a separate levy on selected neighbourhoods where there are large lots with many trees? I don’t think an extra $200-300 would be out of line. I would save $50 on the bags I would have to provide, and people with landscaping services would be billed far more for workers to bag everything. (Or, we could just do what happened this year, when collections were so late that half the leaves piled up were ground up by traffic and washed into the sewers)

  • Lonely Taxpayer

    Your photo shows seven (7) “chartreuse-jacketed” workers blowing a cubic metre of leaves.

    Is that the most cost effective worker>leaf ratio ?

    (Hopefully the pile got removed afterwards)

  • Rob Allan

    Living downtown I concur with Stephen’s comment. Also wet leaves are a hazard and block the sewers.

    • steven craig gardner

      How about cabcelling sidewalk snow removal will that save any moey? It seems were I am thye come 2 days after snow when everyone either shovelled or trampelled down. Also thye dig up peoples driveway curbs all the time and I am having to do some major lawn repair every spring. I say save the money let peole shovel own sidewalks.

  • steven craig gardner

    I would add to you list a total ban on any new traffic calming projects they do not slow anyone down. People learn where the bumps are slow for bumps and then accelerate. Those yellow things to prevent turning seem to be not too useful also as I see more of them knocked over all the time. Lastly when bike lane paint wears off on lakeshore do not repaint. There is no room on lakeshore for bikes and cars anywhere close to downtown. there are other wider east west roads for bikes to take and feel safer. As Burlington has the highest per capita number of cars in the GTA we must plan and budget and respect this as reality for now and in a democracy we should not be forcing people to do something they do not want to do i.e. abandon cars.

  • Stephen

    Only thing I disagree with is the elimination of the leaf collection program. Living in an area with very mature (healthy) trees, it is just not feasible for me to bag 70 bags of leaves in the Fall.

    • Phillip Wooster

      I have to agree, Stephen, I carted 140+ wheelbarrow loads of leaves to the curb this year–I don’t know how many bags that is. It’s easy to suggest ending the program if you live up in North Burlington (Cavendish area) with minimal leaves compared to the south. Of course, if the City is willing to provide a TAX CUT to compensate us for the loss of this service, I would take another look at it!