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More money for transit, fields in operating budget; results in city tax increase of 4.46%, 2.59% overall when blended with Region/Education

Approved at committee Jan.18; to council Jan. 29

Council added more money for transit and sports fields maintenance to the 2018 operating budget after committee deliberations Jan. 18. The changes bring the city portion of the tax increase to 4.46%, for an overall tax increase of 2.59% when blended with Region of Halton taxes, and Education taxes.

The operating budget was approved 6-1 at committee, and heads to City Council for final approval Jan. 29.

New items:

  • additional $372,424 to add five transit operators. This will improve service by providing “layover” time between routes, to allow buses to meet schedules if there are unexpected delays (for example, traffic congestion). Layover times are currently below industry norms.
  • additional $20,600 to provide transit Holiday Service on Dec. 25 and Jan. 1, the only days where no transit service is currently offered. Committee heard from our Director of Transit that Burlington is the only municipality in the GTA that doesn’t operate 365 days per year.
  • $50,000 grant to Friends of Freeman Station to be matched by $50,000 in fundraising to complete the final stages of Regional water hookup, after a long time sponsor could no longer contribute free services.

Committee asked staff to report back to council Jan. 29 with options to reduce the budget by $372,424 to offset the transit budget increase.

Staff Directions:

Two staff directions were approved:

  • to explore opportunities for city use of space for community programming at Corpus Christi Catholic High School;
  • to report back on strategic land acquisition funding tools, including parkland dedication, tax increment financing and increasing the annual contribution to the land fund. Currently $240,000 is added each year from the base budget, plus contributions from parkland dedication collected during development projects, and contributions from year-end surplus/unspent funds.

A staff direction to report back on the implications of ending free parking downtown for city employees as a taxable benefit was defeated. The city contributes $256,000 each year to the parking reserve fund for employee parking.

Highlights:

  • There were several unforeseen increases to the budget this year including the provincial minimum wage increase ($1 million or .65%), and fire department increases awarded through binding arbitration ($1.2 million or .78%).
  • After receiving dire news of the state of transit in September, including non-compliance with employment standards, committee added $1.3 million (.85%) to the budget to correct these issues.
  • Additional $1.9 million (1.25%) for capital infrastructure renewal, in keeping with our long term asset management plan.
  • Additional $320,000 (.21%) for outdoor sportsfield maintenance, to complete the improvements started last year.
  • Increase in corporate expenditures and local boards of .87%, offset by assessment growth of .41% (revenue from new taxpayers through new development, not property value changes which are revenue neutral to the city).

Links to the approved capital and proposed operating budget, and related reports, are available here: 2018 Budget

The staff reports and proposed motions and staff directions are in the budget agenda here: Committee of the Whole – Budget Jan. 18 budget

Residents can Register to Delegate to speak to the budget at council, Jan. 29, 6:30 pm.

My Take:

I’m delighted council supported my two motions to increase transit drivers and add transit service on Christmas and New Year’s Day. These are small steps in the right direction to help people choose transit more often, and win back some of the 1 million-plus riders we’ve lost in the last decade.

Adding holiday service is a direct result of public advocacy so credit is yours: over the holidays, a resident posted on my Facebook page asking for holiday service, prompting others to chime in with support. Special thanks to mayor’s Millennial Advisory Committee, who wrote to the budget committee in support of holiday service.Thank you to the entire community; you made this happen.

I also supported exploring city community use of space in Corpus Christi, and developing a land acquisition strategy, particularly in light of community requests to buy waterfront land and the potential to buy school parks and/or buildings when schools close (as the city did with General Brock school parkland).

That said, I did not support the budget. I brought two motions to reduce the budget for internal staffing and project management which would’ve more than offset the increased transit funding, while reducing the overall tax impact.

Budgeting is about setting priorities: resident services must take priority over administration. We also know that for the majority of residents, their income or pensions are seeing minimal or no increases.

I did not support the $550,000 project management budget added to last year’s base budget – only $57,000 of which was spent last year, tying up half a million dollars that could have gone to community services. This year, $400,000 is projected to be spent, so one of my motions was to reduce the budget by $150,000, to help cover the transit increase.

The other motion was to find the $278,970 increase which includes the salary for the new deputy city manager, within the existing Corporate Management human resources budget. That budget is currently underspent by $403,400 (p68).

The city added 22 full time staff this year within the budget increase; this position could have been one of those. In addition, there is about $1 million each year in staff “gapping” that accounts for natural delays between normal staff turnover and new hires.

In my view, we can find the money for transit within a smaller tax increase, without compromising internal support services.

The good news is that several members of council also thought there might be opportunity to reduce the budget to cover the transit increases. We asked city staff to report back to our council meeting Jan. 29 (where we vote on the budget) with options for reducing the budget by $372,424. If we can make reductions, I will consider supporting the budget at council.

 

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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10 Comments

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  1. Last year the Mayor indicated that a budget increase of over 4% was just a “blip”. Now 4.46% is proposed. Unless the people fight this, it will become the norm.

  2. Did you look at transit – it was noted that TRANSIT was in a critical state- the funding represents send a klennix to a person in a hurricane – way to little – way to late – LAST ONE WHO LEAVES – turn out the lights and lock the door

  3. This hurts seniors who are on fixed income. My first tax increase under the present mayor was .63 Cents now 7 years later it has grown to $190.00 and with this new increase it will be more.

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