Council passed the 2019 Capital Budget and 10-year forecast on Monday (Feb. 25), while discussions continued this week (on Tuesday, Feb. 26 and Thursday, Feb. 28) for the 2019 proposed Operating Budget.
Staff’s initial proposed operating budget called for a 3.99% tax increase, but I am happy to report that after working with my council colleagues, we brought down the city tax portion to 2.99% while still investing in transit, infrastructure, seniors programming, bylaw enforcement and more.
When combined with the Region and school board rates, the overall tax increase would be at 2.02%. Burlington City Council will vote on the approximately $165-million operating budget for 2019 at its next meeting on Monday, March 25 at 6:30 p.m.
Some highlights from the operating budget discussions on Feb. 26 and 28:
- Transit changes — Free transit for adults 65 years of age and older between 9 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. on weekdays starting in June 2019 as a pilot; provide free monthly passes on PRESTO for Burlington residents who qualify for the Subsidized Passes for Low Income Transit (SPLIT) program; Burlington Transit (BT) will work with Halton Region on ways to improve the SPLIT program; BT will work with school boards to develop a fare strategy for students; and BT will create a working group comprising of one Member of Council, members of the public and Burlington Transit Staff;
- Staff initiated reductions to the corporate (city manager’s) budget of $235,000, vacancy rebate elimination of $100,000 (rebates no longer exist), minor adjustments reflecting revenues from the region for council budgets of $40,983, reduction of $100,000 for Randle Reef (can be handled through one time funding instead of base budget) and savings to sidewalk budget of $21,994;
- Reduction of $333,000 by changing the $500,000 provincial gas tax transfer from Operating to Capital leaving $167,000 in the operating budget;
- Emerald Ash Borer response — Add one-time funding of $345,000 for tree planting, $100,000 for woodlot maintenance and $120,000 for Gypsy Moth response from appropriate reserve fund identified by staff (no tax impact) and direct staff to look into what inclusion in tax base would look like going forward;
- Remove $130,000 of Randle Reef funding from the base and provide remaining allocations from one-time funding;
- Increase maintenance of BurlOak Park ($67,000);
- Add one-time funding of $173,000 for new staff at Joseph Brant Museum, with expectations for revised budget for 2020 based on anticipated revenue from events to offset staff costs;
- Add additional bylaw officer ($111,000) and seniors program staff ($114,000) paid for from Human Resources surplus ($1.1 million in 2018);
- Add outside contracted planning staff to handle increased work load for development application processing, paid from planning reserve fee (no tax impact);
- Assign $600,000 for studies not yet undertaken for the Official Plan review (eg. Housing Strategy), from the policy initiatives reserve (no tax impact); and
- Increase arts and culture grant funding by $25,000.
- Direct the Executive Director of the Burlington Museum to report back to council prior to 2020 budget process on the amount that can be raised from events to cover the staffing costs, and include the balance as a business case for the 2020 budget;
- Direct staff to examine consolidation of some bylaw services and bring back a go-forward proposal to council in time for 2020 budget discussions;
- Direct the Director of Finance to bring forward an amendment to the Planning Fee Stabilization Reserve Fund by-law to permit use of funds for surge in workload;
- Direct the Director of Transit to bring a report to council for 2020 budget discussions on participation in the free Transit pilot program and its impact on ridership and revenue;
- Direct the Director of Transportation to review and report back to council as part of the integrated transportation plan an assessment of adding a bike share program in Burlington, and provide costing in time for 2020 budget discussions;
- Director of Transportation to review and report back to council as part of the integrated transportation plan an assessment of adding a bike share program in Burlington, and provide costing in time for 2020 budget discussions;
- Direct the City Manager to investigate alternate space locations for the mobility hub staff team either before or at the end of the existing lease term to realize better pricing;
- Direct the City Manager to review city operations and services, accountable to council and the community’s priorities while finding budget efficiencies;
- revise criteria for urban dog parks and report back on potential locations;
- report back on efforts to address congestion and traffic flow, including traffic light technology by September 2019;
- explore options for enhanced pedestrian safety along James St between Brant and Martha; and
- conduct a Flood Mitigation 101 workshop to explore work to date as well as tree canopy protection, sustainable and low impact development guidelines, greenhouse gas reductions and more.
A link to the full list of Budget Action Requests (BARs) and staff directions from all of Council are available here: 2019 Operating Budget Action Requests.
I am happy that my council colleagues and I have been able to deliver to residents a budget under 3% without sacrificing any essential services many of you rely on and enjoy. I want to thank to every single person around the budget committee table for their hard work and consideration, and to our staff for being patient and for their advice. I appreciate that — and these are not easy discussions. We have done incredible work for the community — adding trees, adding to transit service. There’s a lot more good things in this budget and I’m proud of the work we’ve done and the respectful way we’ve gone about it.
Below you’ll find a collection of the live tweets from the budget discussion meetings on Feb. 26 and 28: