Next meeting: March 24, 7pm, Rm 247, City Hall
Topic: Hospital funding, redevelopment, current challenges
Some 25 residents attended our February Ward 2 advisory committee to tackle the capital budget, which pays for such items as new facilities, road repair and building upkeep. City Manager Roman Martiuk provided an overview of the history and challenges of the capital program including:
- capital spending on new facilities has outpaced population growth, and is a key driver behind historic tax increases. In 2000, the 10-yr capital program stood at $175m; in 2009, the 10yr capital program stood at $533m, financed through debt, community and senior government contributions, and tax increases.
- new capital projects also include an ongoing operations component – for example for additional staff and programming needed for new facilities. This has also impacted taxes
On a continuum of tax increases and spending, this falls on the “doing more with more” side of the ledger. That almost always necessitates tax increases of the kind we have historically seen. Taxes have gone up 26% in the last four years, well above inflation which was 7%. In the last 10 years, tax increases have been 58%, while inflation was 24%.
There was a general view among residents at our meeting that going forward the city should strive to do “more with less”, or even do “less with less” and limit capital expansion and new programming.
Infrastructure funding gap
At the same time, there is an identified gap in funding for roads, buildings and equipment renewal. Currently we can meet only about 68% of renewal requirements. Our buildings and facilities on average have a “poor condition” rating. In terms of dollar value, staff have said we have renewal needs worth about $24 million, but current budgeted funding of only $10 million.
The proposed capital and current (or operations) budget for 2011 will address some, but not all of these challenges. Staff are proposing a tax increase of 2.5%. That includes a dedicated .5% infrastructure levy. Council has also recently learned there is a sizable surplus from the 2010 budget, which we’ll learn more about next week, when staff bring forward a report on the amount, source and proposed disposition of the surplus
My take: During the campaign I pledged to rein in tax increases, and focus on infrastructure and core services. I’m very concerned about our infrastructure renewal gap and will suggest that some of the surplus be directed toward that, in addition to looking at redirecting funds from other capital and operating to infrastructure.
Some of the options that I think are worth considering for reducing our capital spending include:
- Eliminate the Joseph Brant Museum expansion: $1.8m debt (prior approved)
- Scale back New City Park: current budget $3.5m
- Reduce public art program by half: current budget $1m
- Eliminate Spencer Smith washroom, east end: $665K
What’s your view of these proposed options?
Council has yet to consider the current operating budget, and I think there will be some significant savings there, especially in wage and staffing increases. Some of those savings can also be directed toward capital.
In total, the current and capital budget proposed represents a 2.5% tax increase, which is half what it has been historically. Should council be aiming for less? Every 1% tax reduction requires finding about $1.1m in budget cuts.
Your views welcome. To get more information on the budget, attend one of the public meetings below, and click on the online budget reports.
- Sat. March 5 9-11:30am, Burlington Art Centre: Public meeting on budget
- Tues. March 8, 9:30 am, Council Chambers, City Hall: Review and approval of the Capital Budget
- Mon. March 21, 7pm, Council Chambers, City Hall: Council approval of the Capital Budget
- Tuesday, March 29, 9:30 a.m, Council Chambers, City Hall: Current Budget review and approval
- Thursday, March 31, 9:30 a.m, Council Chambers, City Hall: Current Budget review and approval (if required)
- Monday, April 11, 7 p.m., Council Chambers, City Hall: Council Approval, Current Budget
Click here to read the budget documents.