Tax increase of less than 1%, staff levels frozen and pay increases held to about 2.75% Sharman feels he won.

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON April 4, 2011 – Paul Sharman, the guy who fist put the 0% tax increase on the table, says he got what he wanted when the council budget committee settled on a tax increase of less than 1%. “Actually I got more than I wanted” claims Sharman, who then listed the achievements of this council as it crafted its first budget and brought in the lowest tax increase in more than 10 years on the fourth month of their first year in office.

  • We have complement control now said Sharman
  • We have reduced the city hall payroll from the four to five percent increases of the past few years to something in the 2.75% range.
  • We used some of the 2010 surplus to cover the cost of the 2011 contribution to the redevelopment of the Joseph Brant Memorial Hospital. Had we not done that we would have had to make the contribution out of the tax base.
  • A necessary contribution to OMERS, the employee pension plan was made from the surplus.

While these are all great achievements, much of it was possible due to a surplus of $9.3 million from last year which council used to send money to Joseph Brant Hospital and meet the pension fund obligations. Add into that the better than expected return ($1.5 million) on the investment portfolio and this council had a pretty hefty kitty of cash to work with.

Staff salary increase to be about 2.75%

Staff compliment to be frozen at 2011 level.

Part of  2010 surplus used to pay for hospital and staff pension

A large part of that surplus, (more than $3 million) was the result of “gapping”. When a job is created the city budgets for that job for the full 12 months even though the position may not have been filled for that period of time. The “gap” between when the job was open and when it was filled is what they call “gapping’. Neat little financial trick isn’t it? Do you run your household that way?

A council that got re-elected on a 2.5% tax increases delivers a budget with a less than 1% increases.

The less than 1% tax increase is a big step for this council. Ward 3 councillor John Taylor brought up an important point when he spoke of a day when he and Rick Goldring were campaigning on the same street. “I was at the doors talking about a 3.5%`tax increase and Rick was behind me saying the tax increase would likely be 2.5% increase” said Taylor.

Both men had served on the previous council and were working with a number that had been developed by the Cam Jackson council. What neither knew at the time was there was going to be a very significant surplus to work with. Which of course begs the question: Why didn’t council know there was going to be a surplus – surely they can add up numbers.

A step for this council is to implement a process whereby council knows what the city’s position is on a monthly basis. Everyone else works that way. Council had hints that there was going to be a very generous surplus but it took some digging on their part to get the actual number from city staff. It shouldn’t work that way. The seven members of council are the Board of Directors for the city corporation and staff has a responsibility to report to them. This is one you can email your council member on – demand better financial reporting.

This council worked very hard on the budget and in the process got much more control over what happens on the staffing side at city hall.

The staff complement is now frozen at whatever is set out in this new budget. If staff want to create a new position – they have to do so with the money they were given. In the past number of years an average of 18 people were added each year. It was getting out of control and your council wrestled that one down to a freeze on new staff additions.

The discussion on the budget covered three full days. For some reason the bright lights on the management side of the city feel that keeping everyone in the room for a session that runs from 9:30 to 3:30 is good management practice. Things get done partially because people are just work down. Senior staff members come and go during the day but every council member is almost glued to their seat. And then, most of them have constituency matters to deal with at the end of the day. Councillor Taylor wisely asked that next year they work in half day sessions. Wise request John Taylor.

Mayor Goldring prepares to lead the city into the creation of a strategic plan after the budget success.

Mayor Goldring prepares to lead the city into the creation of a strategic plan after the budget success.

With a really solid week of work behind them Sharman is going to do something he has never done before. “I am going dark for a week” he said and added “I am going to Aruba to scuba and will not have a single communications device with me.” We will certainly see a sun tanned Brit returning to Burlington – whether he will be able to function is another matter.

Sharman “goes dark” while in Aruba to scuba.  No contact with anyone but the fishes.

Sharman “goes dark” while in Aruba to scuba. No contact with anyone but the fishes.

For Mayor Rick Goldring this budget was “the most thorough process I have experienced and the longest budget session I have experienced.” Goldring saw it as very demanding but a process that produced the kind of tax increase the taxpayers had demanded. “And”, he added, “there is much more work to do.”

On the toughest day of the budget setting – a session which went from 9 am to 3:30 pm, Goldring then took part in a high school student speech contest. The next morning he did a breakfast with the Burlington Downtown Business Association. He is earning what we pay him – and we don’t pay him enough, not when you measure it against what senior staff are getting.

Once the core budget issues were settled – and those were (1) staffing compliment and just how much the civic bureaucracy was going to be allowed to grow, (2) what the staff salary hike was going to amount to and (3) how the 2010 surplus was going to be handled, council was then able to allocate the funds they had at their disposal. And they did have a lot to play with. More on that in a future story.

It was a good budget session. This council is now working together and doing their job. But there is still not real unanimity at the council table. Ward 1 councilor Rick Craven voted against the budget.

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