Less than twenty people show up at the BAC for first peek at the 2013 city spending plan. City manager lays out the options.

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON.  February 5, 2013  Budget time for the city.  This is going to be a tough one for Burlington to get through.  The amount of money coming in is lower and the amount that different boards want to spend is higher and the city has some core decisions to make on what lines of business it wants to be in and what it might be able to get out of.

In a survey the city had done recently, (cost – $10,000) Burlington tax payers were said to be satisfied with most things and were compared to other medium and large organizations.

These charts compare satisfaction levels in Burlington with other Ontario large and medium size municipalities.

Each year the city invites the public to a presentation of the budget and asks those attending to take part in an exercise  that gives the room instant answers to questions asked.  Each participant is given a little device – sort of like a TV remote – which they use to indicate what they think about the questions asked.  The results are tabulated immediately. This process gives the city a first look at how the public – make that taxpayers – are reacting to the spending plans.

The audience this year was considerably smaller than that of last year when the fireman showed up in force – that show of force was almost intimidating.  There were about 40 people in the room at the Burlington Art Centre this year – of which 19 were public and 18 city hall staff or politicians.

Hopefully when the library opens in Alton Village next year the city will hold an event in the northern part of Burlington; those people have been left out of the loop for far too long.

This is where the money raised is being spent.  The amounts shown are for every $100,ooo of property assessment.  If your property is assessed at $300,000 multiply the numbers shown by 3.

With so few people taking part,  it was not easy to see a tend except for comments on the funding increase the Burlington Performing Arts Centre has asked for this year – and projected out for the next three years as well.  One citizen wanted a referendum held to decide if the place should be kept; a little too late for that question.

Burlington’s historical tax rates with Consumer Price Index shown as well as tax increases for other urban municipalities.

Transit was also an issue for some people. What was evident again this year was how quickly staff would dig out the specifics on a spending question a member of the public might have and how pointed most of the questions were.  Most people had “their” agenda and they spoke to that.

This is the dirty one. It shows the estimated renewal requirement for 10 years along with the 10 year budget – we are short by 60% + and if not caught up we will have to rebuild roads completely at a very significant cost.

Local boards want an additional $1.4 million.  The Economic Development Corporation wants $1 million.  Transit spending that was pulled from the 2012 budget shows up in 2013

This is where the money comes from.

This is the time line the city will work to for completion of the 2013 budget.  If they don’t make the schedule – not to worry – the treasurer has authority to mail out a tax bill.

 

 

The city is undergoing a very significant change in the way it manages itself.   Three new concepts are in the process of being introduced:

Results Based Accountability, a process that will measure outcomes and better manage performance.

Business Process Management, which is a much tighter look at evaluating the capacity the city has to improve on the services it delivers.

Service Based Budgeting, which defines the services being delivered and matching the value of those services to the budget the city chooses to live within.

The condition of our roads wasn’t a question but it was certainly an issue from the city’s point of view.  Last year $1.2 million was spent on a procedure called “shave and pave” that extends the life of a road considerably – delaying a very costly re-build.  Burlington expects its roads to last 50 years before they have to be completely re-built.  The amount to be used on road repair for 2013 was set at $2 million

The city collects money for the Board of Education and for the Region, which includes the cost of the police force.  Of every dollar the city collects – 60 cents gets passed along to others.

The public meeting was preceded by a city council meeting where City Manager Jeff Fielding outlined the issues as he saw them and added that he is going to have to recast the capital budget and would rather have produced a two-year forecast rather than the traditional 10 year capital forecast.

Burlington is moving to an “asset management” approach to the facilities they have.  They will use an approach called “life cycle costing” as they city moves into a stage where residential tax revenue will stall and commercial tax revenues will undergo a reduction until the city gets a better grip on how its employments lands can be better utilized.

The capital budget proposed amounts to $551 million and covers roadways, storm water management, facilities and buildings, parks and open space, parking, fleet vehicles, information technology and corporate initiatives.

Fielding explained to Council that he was going to be able to hold the tax increase at 1.85%, which he thought was pretty good given the challenges the city faces.  Where Fielding was gulping was with the growth items that would add 4.5% to the tax hike – an amount Councillor Meed Ward saw as “untenable” and no one else wanted to get attached to either.  Mayor Goldring did say at that meeting that 6.5% was not on but that there was going to be something more than the just over 2% last year.

The budget process got a little bumpy as well this time around.  Fielding thought part of his job was to comment on the budgets submitted by the local boards (Library, Museum, Art Centre, Performing Art Centre and the Economic Development Corporation) and was brought to heel by the Library Board when they objected to his comments on the way they were staffing for the new Library in Alton Village.

Fielding wants a “governance” discussion that will clarify his role.  He told the Council he serves that “we do have to have a governance discussion…the boards represent you at arm’s length. They have more power than I have as a civic administrator.  You gave them that authority to run the service and you look to those boards for the advice you need.  They did that.”

“You saw the push back from the library when we even asked if they could find the staff they need for the new Alton Village library from within their current staffing compliment.  You saw that they were offended.

Fielding wants Council to decide if he is to have anything to do with the budgets the boards produce.  He’s in a bit of a bind; he has no oversight but he has to find the money they ask for.  “If you change your minds and want me to do that work and review their growth items then you need to make that clear to me and also make it clear to the boards.”  We have a bit of a turf struggle going on here.  The city manager should win this one.

This is the third budget this council has delivered and it will be significantly different from the last two.  The Burlington Performing Arts Centre wants an additional $225,000.  The Economic Development Corporation wants close to $1 million to restructure.  The Museums came in with a different story and announced that they had raised close to $85,000 in grants and didn’t appear to need any financial help.  They do want $7,000 plus to convert a part-time curatorial position to full-time.  The Burlington Arts Centre wants a  $125,000 addition to their base funding in 2013 and the same amount in 2014 plus $45,00 to align their compensation with provincial regulations. Sound of Music is asking for $37,000 more.

The Burlington Performing Arts Centre needs a $225,000 touch up as well.  All these “asks” add up to $4.5 million which will add more than 4% to the tax rate.

Meed Ward isn’t on for this even though most of the people with their hand out are within her ward.  She talked of the “lived” experience her constituents have to live with where they are asked to “reduce spending by 2% to 5%” while Burlington has put in place an across the board 2% for the boards.

Councillor Craven, who can fume almost as well as Councillor’s Taylor and Craven, said he agreed with Taylor about the need to look at the budget numbers but disagreed with Taylor on where the changes have to take place.  Craven says the cuts have to be made by Council and that “we can’t continue to push this onto our staff. “It’s about leadership”, he said.

The focus for 2013 is going to be infrastructure and the hospital levy.  The others are going to have to learn how to cut corners.  The Performing Arts people are probably going to be told to use their reserve to cover the 2012 short-fall.

The Burlington Economic Development Corporation might take the biggest hit.  “I don’t know” said city manager Fielding, “if the Economic Development Corporation has a future going forward.”  That’s code for – polish the resumes fellow, the gig is over.  Fielding said this is “something her has to look at.”

 

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