One item is vital; another doesn't seem to make much sense - and the city needs another lawyer

News 100 redBy Pepper Parr

January 28th, 2021

BURLINGTON, ON

 

The Operations draft budget suggests a tax increase of 4.99%.

The Mayor doesn’t like the look of those numbers and has said that she could live with a 3.99% increase and asked the Finance department to come back with some suggestions as to how this might be done.

Members of Council will be given Budget Action Requests (BAR) which is how the members of council ask (tell?) Finance where changes can be made to get the required number.

It is not at all certain that every member of this Council is as married to the 3.99% number as the Mayor. It difficult to see but the word we have from council sources (given to us as background and on a not-for-attribution basis) is that Council would like to have their views being equal to the Mayor’s.

The budget is far too big to do a really deep analysis – we certainly don’t have the resources to do that work and we are not at all sure that very many people would read through it all. So we have picked 10 items to comment upon, and asking the question – why this spend?

The Gazette doesn’t want to overwhelm with detail so we are going to do three at a time over the next few days.

First: a spend of just under $50,000 for a part time audio visual person.  Why?

Information Technology Services (ITS) is seeking to hire a part-time A/V Specialist to support audio and video technology within the Council Chambers, web streaming of Committee and Council sessions and virtual meeting services required due to COVID.

The ITS department currently has a single A/V Specialist and has no effective backup that would be able to support a meeting of Council in the event that this sole resource becomes ill or is otherwise unavailable.

Mayor plexi in place

The Mayor, the City Clerk and Dave – the AV guy are the only people in the Council Chamber when the meetings are “virtual”. Without Dave – no one would know that there was a council meeting taking place.

The part-time A/V Specialist will also provide backup and supplementary support of other types of public engagement meetings and corporate A/V including the Emergency Operations Centre, Halton Court Services, general meeting rooms and training facilities.

There a significant risk that a Council meeting could not be easily held and could only be conducted in a very constrained and modified fashion that would fail to meet the expectation of Council and the public. There currently is no viable plan B.

This spend is a must – vital actually. Right now a man named Dave Thompson runs the audio visual system that delivers council meetings to the public as a web cast on the city website.

Dave is run ragged every time there is a Council or Standing Committee meeting. There are at time some minor mistakes – they are usually corrected very quickly.

If Dave were to become victim of COVID-19, or slip on a banana peel somewhere, a council meeting would not be broadcast – and if it isn’t made public – is the meeting still deemed to have taken place?

We think Dave is pretty close to the hardest working man in the city – quite why a backup person wasn’t hired six months ago defies explanation.

Approve this one in a flash and find a way to get it approved before March – which is when the budget is expected to be approved.

The people who concern themselves with Risk Management certainly dropped the ball on this one.

Where do the numbers come from ? Figure this one out.

Municipal Finance people do accounting differently. All too often people with strong private sector experience and a lot of experience handling budgets and balance sheets are stunned when they look at city financial statements.

Frank McKeowan, the one-time Chief of Staff for Rick Goldring when he was Mayor once said that municipalities don’t have balance sheets or Profit and Loss Statements. To some degree he was right.

There is an item on the budget for $116,700..It is described as the cost for a service that is being delivered.

Transit - seniors with Gould

The Seniors pushed for years for a better transit deal. It took six years but with a new progressive thinking transit director and a council that saw transit as a necessary service – changes came about.

The service being delivered is free use of transit between 9:00 am and 2:30 pm Monday to Friday. Seniors will board any bus in the city use their Presto Pass and not be charged for the trip they are taking.

So what does the cost of $116,700 represent?

The buses are already on their routes – there is no additional expense.  Does the $116,700 represent money the city thinks it would have received if those seniors had been required to pay a fare ?

The free fare program has proven to be very popular – ridership numbers soared when it was first introduced.

Those ridership numbers do increase what the city gets in the way of gas tax rebates from the province.

The city seems to be budgeting for funds it would normally get at the fare box, and because it will not be getting these funds, the city has put in a figure of $116,700 to offset the loss!

Before the pilot began, seniors accounted for approximately nine percent of the transit ridership.

Key successes from the pilot include:

• Almost 70,000 rides were provided for seniors for free from June to December 2019
• Mid-day boardings increased by over 2.5 times, this is directly co-related to the increase in the number of seniors using transit
• Ridership did not change outside the free period, seniors who already used transit did not shift their travel times to the free period
• Senior ridership increased by 41% between June 2019 and February 2020
•• The growth in seniors made up approximately 35% of Burlington Transit’s overall ridership growth from 2018 to 2019
• Increased ridership could potentially increase provincial gas tax by $13,000

Based on the success of the program, it is recommended to continue this program on a permanent basis.

Great idea – but what does the $116,700 that the budget book shows as a project cost amount to.  How does not getting paid amount to a cost?

So why is the $116,700 figure even in the budget book.

Hiring another lawyer? Afraid so.

Ideally the person hired will save the city a reasonable amount of money and a lot of grief.

Local Planning Authority Tribunal (LPAT) hearings amount to groups of lawyers arguing the merits of the developers’ plans while the city lawyer argues why the LPAT appeal should be dismissed.

One additional solicitor position is being requested for the Planning, Development & Real Estate practice group in order to support the on-going work of Community Planning. At present, the practice group is led by one Deputy Corporation Counsel and consists of one Solicitor assigned to real estate law, and one Senior Law Clerk supporting planning, development and real estate. The demands for legal service has been steadily increasing and there simply isn’t sufficient capacity in the current staffing level to continue to “do it all”.

The Key Drivers of the growing demand for legal service support for Community Planning are the same drivers that are impacting Community Planning organizationally. Legal works very closely with Community Planning on policy initiatives, at the front and back ends of development files, and on any resulting appeals. As has been identified, Community Planning is expected to grow from current staff complement of 29 to 51 over the next 3 years.

The proposed development V a

Every development requires input from the legal department. This development has been “in the works” for at least six years.

– approximately 50 active major development files (7,000 residential units, 40 Tall/Mid-rise buildings, employment, commercial)

– 30 major development pre-consultations to date

– pre-building permit applications are up more that 50% over last year

– # of application approvals “on hold” due to ICBL continuation

– major policy development work either in progress or anticipated in the forseeable future including comprehensive zoning by-law review, housing strategy, Regional municipal comprehensive review, various urban design guidelines, cultural heritage study, adjusting the Urban Growth Centre and removing the MTSA from the downtown .

The addition of one solicitor position would resource the planning and development practice group to take on the day-to-day legal support for Community Planning.

The additional resource will create capacity for the Deputy Corporation Counsel to manage the sheer volume of LPAT work that is coming out of the planning and development area. The government has reversed changes made to the Planning Act with respect to how hearings are conducted. The legislative changes will result in more appeals for the municipality to defend, and lengthy and expensive hearings de novo.

The sheer volume of appeal work will be handled by a combination of internal and external legal resources. The magnitude of the job to be done requires a great deal of internal coordination. The nature of the appeals demands that the appeals are handled consistently so that the city doesn’t lose sight of the inter-relatedness of much of the work that is underway.

Finally, the additional position allows for greater succession planning in the Planning, Development and Real Estate practice group. The City is at a point where it will have a new official plan and new comprehensive zoning by-law. Bringing on a new solicitor will allow this individual to start “on the ground floor” as these new instruments are applied and tested. Building that internal capacity is important in a small department like Corporate Legal Services.

Failure to expand Corporate Legal Services internal capacity will have negative consequences for the City:

-Risk of failing to deliver key results on Council’s Strategic Plan (defend the new OP, defend the changes to the planning instruments, defend changes to the comprehensive zoning by-law, development of MTSA’s along major transit corridors)
– Risk of failing to provide timely advice to Community Planning on a day-to-day basis.
– Heavier reliance on the use of external counsel which is more costly to the municipality.
– Failure to develop our internal talent to the detriment of the individual and the corporation. Succession management is critical given that specialized positions have proven difficult to fill in the past.
– Reputational risk to the department if we are unable to meet the needs and expectations for legal services.
– Potential for increased legal risk to the corporation. Having legal involved early on in planning issues makes for better decision-making.

There are key applications being processed such as the Nelson Quarry expansion that may have environmental impacts. Dealing with these types of issues requires a lot of planning and legal resources and have the potential to end up in major, lengthy hearings.

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1 comment to One item is vital; another doesn’t seem to make much sense – and the city needs another lawyer

  • perryb

    Re: legal work – has anyone ever asked our MPP why her government has forced more cost on the city by tipping the scales even more in favour of its developer friends when it reversed the already minimal attempts to rein in the OMB – oops LPAT?

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