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Budget: Is anyone better off?

The 2015 Budget marks the first year for the city of “service-based budgetting” which outlines costs according to service, rather than departmental structure.

The service-based budget outlines 47 distinct services, half of which are directly delivered to the public, in seven broad groups including: public safety (including fire protection, animal control, bylaw enforcement); maintenance (including roads and sidewalks, parks, trees, stormwater); roads and transportation (including transit, traffic operations, parking); leisure (including recreation, sport, arts and culture); design and build (including planning approvals, park and facility design and building code permits/inspection); customer relations and citizen representation (including city council, citizen advisory committees and miscellaneous licenses); and internal administration (including legal, communications, human resource, information technology, audit).

For each service staff have created a business plan that asks three things:

  1. how much service do we provide (quantity)
  2. how well do we provide it (efficiency)
  3. is anyone better off? (effectiveness)

For example, a review of the Design & Build service reports the number of Official Plan Amendment and Rezoning Applications for the last four years (ranging from 8 to 20), and how many were approved (100% in years 2011, 2012, 2013, 66% projected for 2014). Is anyone better off? On the one hand, fewer appeals means less cost to the city and more timely approvals, but what if residents are generally opposed to what’s being approved? These are the kinds of important discussions that can take place with the data provided from service based budgetting.

Over the next few months, I’ll detail each service and ask you to decide “Are you better off?”

The move to service-based budgetting is intended to allow the public and council to review  whether specific services need to be enhanced, reduced or possibly eliminated. It may also identify any new services that might be needed.

The bottom line is to ensure that Burlington residents get the services you need and want, as well as getting value for the tax dollars invested delivering those services.

My Take: I’m impressed with the detail in the service-based budget documents, and delighted that the focus remains on residents – are you better off from the services the city delivers with your tax dollars? I look forward to reviewing with you each service over coming months with that question in mind.

In general, this budget process has been a huge improvement over previous budgets, with a focus on major investments, and a small number of additional requests. There were only 9 business cases to review for extra funds this year, versus more than 40 last year, and over 70 the year before. IN the past, the dollar amounts of these requests ranged from very small (in the thousands) to large (hundreds of thousands). On the smaller items, council would spend the amount requested just in our salaries debating the issue.

Refocusing our efforts to fewer large ticket items and requesting that staff deal with the smaller items is a vast improvement. This process is more streamlined and should allow for a smoother budget process – and council spending our time on large items rather than spinning our wheels debating small requests.

Written by Marianne Meed Ward

A Better Burlington began in 2006 after my neighbours said they felt left out of city decisions, learning about them only after they’d been made.

As journalist for 22 years, I thought “I can do something about that” and a website and newsletter were born. They’ve taken various forms and names over the years, but the intent remains: To let you know what’s happening at City Hall before decisions are made, so you can influence outcomes for A Better Burlington.

The best decisions are made when elected representatives tap the wisdom of our community members, and welcome many different perspectives.This site allows residents to comment and debate with each other; our Commenting Guidelines established in 2016 aim to keep debate respectful.

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