Budget invests in infrastructure/transit; Increase approved for 3.64%, 2.06% overall

Burlington’s 2015 budget was approved 6-1 with a 3.64% tax increase. When blended with educational and regional taxes, which make up roughly two-thirds of the tax bill, the overall increase is 2.06%.

Staff had initially proposed a budget with an overall increase of 3.55%, with enhancements to infrastructure, transit, storm water management and some cultural initiatives. Read a summary of the initial budget in my earlier article here: “3.55% increase focuses on infrastructure, flood, transit, culture”

In total, council members brought 31 motions or staff directions to modify the budget; of those, 14 passed, 4 were withdrawn, and the rest failed. The full list of motions, including who brought the motion forward and how councillors voted is detailed in “Win some votes, lose some; We’ve all been there. Now it will be recorded” 

Councillor Jack Dennison was the lone vote against the budget.

The budget was approved faster than any previous budget, in part because fewer motions were put on the floor, and there were fewer additional items to consider. In the past, council would start with the existing budget, then review change items detailed in “business cases” that outlined the rationale for the item, plus put their own items on the floor. In 2013, there were over 80 business cases and an additional 50 amendments from council; in 2014, there were 17 business cases and 54 budget amendments from council. Those items could range from as little as $7,000 to over $1 million.

Council and staff alike realized this wasn’t good use of anyone’s time and committed to including nominal items in the initial proposed budget or finding those dollars within existing allocations, reducing the number of business cases brought forward, and bringing only items larger than $25,000 to council for deliberation.

In 2015, there were only 12 business cases (capital and current) and only 31 changes from council, leading to more streamlined decision-making, focused on priorities.

My Take: I supported the budget and the increases because they focus on items that matter to residents. This was our “Infrastructure & Transit Budget.” Over the years, we’ve fallen behind in investments in both categories, and have some catchup to do. That catchup will continue for many years. A 20-year tax simulation prepared by staff predicts 3.5-4% increases over the next decade, largely due to the need for catchup funding.

The 2015 budget also includes significant investment in flood mitigation and our hospital – both need-to-have items – with some investment in culture, which our residents have also been asking for.

I appreciate the streamlined process and the focus on big ticket items that will deliver significant results for residents. I recall the first budget last term when councillors spent close to an hour debating a $1000 item. We spent that amount many times over if you counted the salaries of everyone in the room during that debate. We’ve come a long way since then.

I welcome the new service-based approach which measures what we do, how much, how efficiently, and most importantly Is anyone better off? Efficiency and effectiveness are the right questions to guide our budget decisions.

Your take: What are your thoughts on the total increase, and the items included? Are they the right ones? Did we miss anything?

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