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Budget invests in infrastructure/transit; Increase approved for 3.64%, 2.06% overall

Burlington’s 2015 budget was approved 6-1 with a 3.64% tax increase. When blended with educational and regional taxes, which make up roughly two-thirds of the tax bill, the overall increase is 2.06%.

Staff had initially proposed a budget with an overall increase of 3.55%, with enhancements to infrastructure, transit, storm water management and some cultural initiatives. Read a summary of the initial budget in my earlier article here: “3.55% increase focuses on infrastructure, flood, transit, culture”

In total, council members brought 31 motions or staff directions to modify the budget; of those, 14 passed, 4 were withdrawn, and the rest failed. The full list of motions, including who brought the motion forward and how councillors voted is detailed in “Win some votes, lose some; We’ve all been there. Now it will be recorded” 

Councillor Jack Dennison was the lone vote against the budget.

The budget was approved faster than any previous budget, in part because fewer motions were put on the floor, and there were fewer additional items to consider. In the past, council would start with the existing budget, then review change items detailed in “business cases” that outlined the rationale for the item, plus put their own items on the floor. In 2013, there were over 80 business cases and an additional 50 amendments from council; in 2014, there were 17 business cases and 54 budget amendments from council. Those items could range from as little as $7,000 to over $1 million.

Council and staff alike realized this wasn’t good use of anyone’s time and committed to including nominal items in the initial proposed budget or finding those dollars within existing allocations, reducing the number of business cases brought forward, and bringing only items larger than $25,000 to council for deliberation.

In 2015, there were only 12 business cases (capital and current) and only 31 changes from council, leading to more streamlined decision-making, focused on priorities.

My Take: I supported the budget and the increases because they focus on items that matter to residents. This was our “Infrastructure & Transit Budget.” Over the years, we’ve fallen behind in investments in both categories, and have some catchup to do. That catchup will continue for many years. A 20-year tax simulation prepared by staff predicts 3.5-4% increases over the next decade, largely due to the need for catchup funding.

The 2015 budget also includes significant investment in flood mitigation and our hospital – both need-to-have items – with some investment in culture, which our residents have also been asking for.

I appreciate the streamlined process and the focus on big ticket items that will deliver significant results for residents. I recall the first budget last term when councillors spent close to an hour debating a $1000 item. We spent that amount many times over if you counted the salaries of everyone in the room during that debate. We’ve come a long way since then.

I welcome the new service-based approach which measures what we do, how much, how efficiently, and most importantly Is anyone better off? Efficiency and effectiveness are the right questions to guide our budget decisions.

Your take: What are your thoughts on the total increase, and the items included? Are they the right ones? Did we miss anything?

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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  1. In my opinion the actions of council, and by extension all of City Hall, are nothing short of criminal. The budget should not be more than the rate of inflation at worst. If there is a need to invest in infrastructure, hospitals etc. it must come at the expense of existing programs or services, not in addition to these offerings. The public service needs a serious reality check as to the true nature of their responsibilities. It is not to tax and spend but rather to establish realistic community requirements and to structure itself accordingly. If some services…and staff…must be sacrificed, so be it. The current model is unsustainable and irresponsible.

  2. Marianne.
    In your update you stated that the city anticipated budget increases in the range of 3.5% to 4.0% for the next 10 years. You are no doubt aware that thanks to the ‘magic’ of compunding this means a tax bill that will be over 44% higher after that time. I don’t think this is sustainable. The city and all the groups that return year after year with requests for budget increases need to learn that there are limits to what the tax payers can provide. Yes we hear that the taxpayers are demanding all the ‘nice to haves’ but would they be so quick to support them if they realized the money was coming out of their own wallets.? Coucil needs to spend more time looking at cost savings and less debating about increases.
    Burlington is fast becoming an unaffordable city when it comes to housing. Hemed in by it’s boarders and provincial rules that mandate ‘infilling’, has lead to real estate prices that are beyond the reach of first time buyers. Now we are giving residents a tax break if they can prove their buildings have some ‘heritage’ value. This will probably lead to a rush of such declarations putting even more pressure on new housing development. We are moving towards becoming a retirement community full of old people with entitelement mentalities. This does not bode well for the future of our city.

  3. Thank you most sincerely Marianne for this communication.
    When the Provincial Government a few years back dumped $200,000,000. yes is said two hundred million into the Markham jurisdiction, they had to bank it awaiting the hospital plans? Has anyone done a study in relation to population vis a vis the Provincial Governments funding for area hospitals. Surely there is a formula? I think we have a City rep on the board, can we ask that the Emergency ward be operated by Triage Nurses from the battle ground, maybe, we would get a different outcome. Otherwise on a personal basis, keep up the good work, I’m sure it’s not easy being a City Councillor.

  4. In responding to this years budget – regarding BPAC, when is this out of control which we HAD to have going to be told its going to have to sustain operations on its own??? Everyone, except the the politicians, knew if we built this pile that the taxpayers would FOREVER be on the hook to keep it open, care to comment? Another thing – the hospitlal – how many more increases are we expected to endure? By the way, you never did reply to my question about why the CEO increased his personal business expeditures by over 500% over his inept predecessor as reported in the Spectator late last year.

What's your take?

Win some votes, lose some. We’ve all been there. Now it will be recorded.

Transit: 2 steps forward, 1 back, many to go