Meed Ward wanted to reduce the budget by $2.1 million; all she got was a raspberry from Councillor Craven.

 

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON  March 19, 2013  Ward 2 Councillor Marianne Meed Ward was the only Council member to come up with very specific suggestions on how to reduce the spending, which she feels is creeping outside what this city can afford.  While Meed Ward doesn’t bring to the table the depth and understanding of municipal budgets that other council members have, and she doesn’t have anything in the way of a financial designation, she does know how to add up the numbers and she doesn’t think this city has to spend what it plans to spend.

Meed Ward would reduce the human resources merit fund from 1.5% of the HR budget to 1%.  Savings: $157, 000

Meed Ward would eliminate the E-gov facility rentals. Savings: $165, 000

Meed Ward would eliminate the Risk & Consulting services. Savings: $909, 000

Meed Ward would eliminate additional leadership training; she argues there is already  $500,000 in the budget.  Savings: $80,000

Meed Wards wants the Brant House Museum to find the $7,000 they wanted for part-time curatorial services within the 2%  increase they were given.  Savings: $7,000

Meed Ward wants to take out the sum that was set aside for the Burlington Arts Centre foundation board restructuring.  Savings: $100,000

Meed Ward didn’t want to give the Performing Arts Centre any more money.  Savings: $488,000

Meed Ward, who doesn’t sit in the Burlington Economic Development Corporation board wants to reduce the BEDC ask to $160,000 from $370,000.  Savings $210,000

Meed Ward’s math amounts to a $2.1 million cut from the $9.2 million budget approved last night.

Is she right?  She is certainly worth listening to.  She argues that “some of the spending increases are hidden because they are “onetime” funding not counted in the tax levy, and result from raiding our Tax Rate Stabilization reserve fund drawn to the tune of almost $2 million.”

What we saw this budget session was a tougher Meed Ward.  Her view seemed to be that ‘if you can`t show me real savings and that you are going to do things differently – then I don`t want you to have any more of the taxpayers money.’  With that tone she is certainly playing the kind of music her people want to hear.  She is a politician and she fully intends to be Mayor of this city – sooner than many in this city are ready for.  My guess – it`s not a bet yet –  within five years.

Let`s look at the specifics of what Meed Ward wanted to cut.

Merit pay: The city allocates 1.5% of the human resources budget as an amount managers can allocate to deserving employees as merit pay.  Some of the people at city hall do a superb job and deserve an additional reward; that`s how you keep good people.  The finance department has been doing a great job.  That 1.5% is not given to every employee – it is allocated by the managers – some may get 2.4% while others get nothing.  It is merit pay which the city manager will sign off on – fully expect Jeff Fielding to ensure that the merit pay is merited.  Meed Ward wants to cut that 1.5% of the human resources budget back to 1% of the HR budget.  That won`t be popular with staff but the voters will like it – is it good financial stewardship?  It`s not bad.

E gov facilities:  The city currently has three full-time people working on what is called E-gov; an approach that uses technology to get information out to people and to get information from people and to provide services faster, easier and more cost effectively.  The city has yet to tell its E-Gov story.  There is no space at city hall for these people – so the city went looking for a place to house them, found what they needed for the next three years and budgeted $165,000 to cover the rent.  Where did Meed Ward expect these people to work – they need an office, preferably one that is heated.

Risk consulting: The city’s audit department is beefing up how the city manager checks on how money was spent.  It is one thing to say we are going to have Results Based Accountability – but someone then has to go into each department and look at the projections and the results and report on if the objective was reached and if not – why.  That stuff doesn’t just happen; there are procedures and processes that are put in place and followed.

The city manager is making the city hall bureaucracy much more professional – and that does not come cheaply.

Three people were brought in and will be added to the staffing compliment over the next three years.  Why not put them all on staff now – that would mean upping the staff count and the city doesn’t want to do that.

Staff training: The city manager realizes there has to be a huge cultural shift at city hall.  Doing things the old way is no longer working.  People who work in the municipal sector are a product of the business they are in.  Don’t expect them to do things differently; that’s not the way the business works and Fielding understands that, which is why he entered into an agreement with McMaster to have them train city hall staff.   The 200 men and women taking these courses, amount to an Executive MBA with one fifth of the classes focused on municipal administration.  Meed Ward thinks the city manager should make do with the $500,000 he was given.  Is she right?  On this one – she would be wiser to go with the request.  The city will get, is already getting value and that will only increase.  The down side is that Burlington is probably in the process of training people who will move on to other municipalities.  We will be the best-managed city in the country and the place that everyone poaches to get first class staff.

The Museum got the $7,000 they wanted – but it was an abuse of process making that happen. And the museum needs a lot more than $7,000 to do justice to the role Joseph Brant played in the development of this country.

Brant Museum. Meed Ward opposed the $7,000 the Brant Museum wanted for part-time curatorial.  Many felt Councillor Craven abused the delegation process by asking his colleagues to make an exception and have Burlington Museums Executive Director Barbara Teatro plead for the funds – which she got. The Brant Museum needs a really hard look in terms of the job it does researching and promoting the story of Joseph Brant before it gets any additional funding.  Craven pulled a fast one and got away with it.

The Burlington Art Centre is going through a very tough stage.  They have, in the recent past, had to turn to the foundation and draw down funds from them to meet operating costs.  The foundation currently has a meager $35,000 on hand – not a healthy place to be.

The BAC Board and the Foundation Board were once one and the same – they have  been divided into two separate boards which is how most places set these things up.  The Foundation is usually the fund raising arm; the BAC board handles governance and oversight.

The BAC knew that it had to better define its role in the community.  It is getting harder to capture any mind share with all the competing demands for attention.  The creation of the Performing Arts Centre took away a lot of the attention the BAC used to get.

They asked the city for $125,000  and wanted to put $50,000 of that into the foundation as a reserve.  They wanted to use the rest of the money to put together a marketing/business plan as well as a branding program that would set the BAC apart from other cultural institutions in the city.

They got $100,000 in one time funding to do what they’ve explained they feel they have to do.

Meed Ward doesn’t feel their funding should come from the taxpayers – she doesn’t seem to appreciate that the Art Centre is there for the taxpayers.  The city might be dipping into the reserves – that’s what reserves are for.

The Performing Arts Centre was never supposed to make money – the public just wasn’t ready for the place to lose as much as it lost or to need as much to stay alive.

Performing Arts Centre: Meed Ward was one of the Council members that did not attend the Official Opening of the Performing Arts Centre.  She has an understanding of the way the place should work that many don’t understand.  Her view is that the professional events brought to the PAC have to pay their own way and at the best of times earn enough to leave funds available to support the community events, the non-profit groups that were supposed to be making great use of the space.

Meed Ward wants the profit-making types to subsidize the non-profits.  She doesn’t think the PAC needed money to pay for an additional technical person – the increased business would cover that cost and if there were no increase in business then the PAC wouldn’t need the additional technical person.

Meed Ward didn’t see any value in the additional sales associate.  The amount they would be adding to the revenue side wasn’t worth the cost or the risk.

Meed Ward doesn’t bring an “artsy” view to the PAC.  For her it has always been a nice to have but now that we’ve got the place she doesn’t want to see it sucking up all the funds the city has in reserve.  On that one – she should have gotten more in the way of support from her colleagues.  That the Executive Director resigned the day after the budget was approved messes up that situation somewhat.

Meed Ward is tough on what the PAC can and should do for the city.  A more developed appreciation on the part of what the PAC can do for the city would help – but Meed Ward has a constituency and they like what she is saying.

The city needs to see more photo ops like this. The business model the BEDC had in place was a close to total failure. It took a shock from the city manager who reported Burlington was going to experience negative commercial growth in the tax base for 2013 to motivate the BEDC board to do something. Meed Ward wants more information on how they are going to solve the problem before she approves funding. Council decided to give them what they were asking for.

Economic Development Corporation: We now have Meed Ward who is a more involved Councillor on things economic, which up until now has not been one of her strengths.  She still struggles with some of the concepts but she knows how to add and she brings the view of the average person to the table.  For Meed Ward the “what”  has to be done is no longer the issue – the city needs more jobs; the city has a great story to tell potential corporations looking for a place to locate and we have the economic land needed.  That the land isn’t ready for occupancy is an issue that can be resolved.   For Meed Ward, the issue is  how we are going to do this and she doesn’t believe the BEDC has a grip yet on the how part and she doesn’t want to give them anymore funding until the “what” has been made very clear.

For her, and her constituency – it is pretty clear.  The nuances that BEDC Executive Director Kyle Benham talks about are beyond the ward two council member.  Those two are never going to agree on much but she has clout at the Council table – Benham approaches as a supplicant.

Meed Ward argues that the Sound of Music produces revenue for the city. The numbers in the right hand column are monies paid to the city for services the city provides – that’s SOM money being paid to the city.
Meed Ward says they pay the city $96,200

Sound of Music: Meed Ward isn’t afraid to spend money.  She thinks the Sound of Music is one of the best deals the city has going for it and she was quite prepared to let them have the $37,000 they were asking for.  She would be inclined to give them more if they asked and would love to see the Performing Arts Centre delivering economic benefits the way the Sound of Music does.

Meed Ward wanted to cut spending – that’s good, politicians have an ability to spend and try later to duck the consequences.  Not this lady.  Unfortunately some of the cuts she proposed were ill-advised and not thought out thoroughly.  One of the problems is that Meed Ward antagonizes people; she pushes buttons and moves people out of their comfort zone.  And so they push back.  We saw Councillor Craven pushing back in a most inappropriate way.

Meed Ward is learning – and she does have the capacity to learn.  No one is really sure who is advising her – she doesn’t have an advisor, a trusted confidant she can bounce ideas off.

She does have a constituency and they love her.  How large is that constituency and can she grow it to the point where it will carry her to the point where she wears the chain of office.  Too early to tell – but she gave them all a run for their money this budget session.

Meed Ward doesn’t like the direction the tax curve is taking and fears for the impact this could have on the seniors who have fixed incomes.  She asks if the tax dollars are being spent in the right places.

For Meed Ward it is all about the tax rate which she says has increased 60% in the past 10 years. The graph shown  is not something she is proud of and not the kind of city she wants to run.

 

 

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3 comments to Meed Ward wanted to reduce the budget by $2.1 million; all she got was a raspberry from Councillor Craven.

  • Ken Colombo

    To say “taxpayers are disappointed,” would be a HUGE understatement. I take EXCEPTION to the cavalier attitude and bullying abuse accorded to Marianne Meed Ward.

    In the meantime, you and yours have captured the essence and interplay at council, which is no small feat.

    I have NO DOUBT there will be changes at the next election.

    Among the DUMBEST MOVES I’ve witnessed is the attempt to narrow the lakeshore and other streets to accommodate cyclist activities.

    • Robert Narejko

      The anger towards anything other than car based culture is not surprising given that the infrastructure for cycling is poor in many suburban cities.

      But why is accommodating cyclists ‘dumb’? The benefits are there from a health, financial, traffic congestion and environmental aspect according to many organizations such as the Canadian Medical Association, the Province of Quebec, the UK Government. Many cities, large and small around the world, including cities in the US and Canada promote cycling. If cycling increased by 50% from current numbers, the payback to those people from a longer healthier life and less drain on the health care system will more than cover the relatively small cost of putting in cycling infrastructure than building the same amount of roads for cars.

      Change is hard to achieve when people only see one side of the story and aren’t open to hearing the other side, or sides.

    • Robert Narejko

      The Councillor can dish out the abuse and she can take it. Unfortunately that is the way the game is being played.

      What is needed is a more control of Council by the Chair and to remove people from Chambers when they heckle speakers. Two separate people heckled two different delegations when they were responding to MMW’s questions. The hecklers were not removed, nor were they reprimanded.

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