Why spending must address the growing debt of repair needs

When it comes to taxes and spending, residents want us to look for savings and spend your money on your priorities. One of those priorities is making sure the roads, sidewalks, parks and buildings we own are in good repair. They aren’t, and that’s why spending on infrastructure must take priority in future budgets.

Hits & Misses: The first year of this term, council delivered the smallest tax increase in years, at .91%. Tax increases over the term are 12.79% (if the 2014 budget is approved), half what they were the last term.

Joseph Brant Hospital expansion is underway

Joseph Brant Hospital expansion is underway

The budget was also refocused to priorities, like infrastructure and the hospital. As the council representative on the hospital Board of Governors, one of my proudest days for the city was when council approved the contribution agreement with the hospital, supporting its first expansion plan in decades – aimed at  significantly improving patient access and care.

On a neighbourhood level, it was also a great day for the community when council approved the repair work to the Drury Lane pedestrian bridge. This critical piece of infrastructure encourages walking and connects the Glenwood School Drive neighbourhood with the schools, shops and community centres across the tracks.

Drury-Lane-Bridge-BurlingtonCouncil has increased the amount of money going toward infrastructure repair and renewal each year by .5%. But it’s not enough. In December 2013 we received a report from our staff indicating an annual deficit in repair projects of $49 million, and an accumulated backlog of projects worth $149 million. As a result, council voted for a 20 year plan that will increase our annual spending on infrastructure, and eliminate the growing backlog. That plan will see an additional .75% invested in infrastructure starting in 2015, bringing our total investment to 1.25% per year. Some of that new investment (.5%) will come from repurposing the hospital levy which ends this year. That money will be redirected into the infrastructure fund. By 2023, the total annual increase will drop to 1% until 2033.

The Road Ahead: Spending must continue to address priorities like infrastructure and job creation. Other priorities for your tax dollars must be those items the private sector can’t or won’t provide, including snow clearing, park maintenance, community centres and programs, and transit.

We need to continue to look for savings within the budget.  Some residents are at the tipping point of what they can continue to pay, especially our seniors on fixed incomes who get no additional income increase in this same period.

Burlington taxes 2014At least once a term, we need to review all spending and not just our current practice of reviewing incremental requests, where council is only asked to vote on additions to the budget. An in-depth review will better align spending with priorities and identify possible savings. Council will have a “service-based” budget in 2015, which may help define the value and costs for each service we provide.

We also need to move away from our current budget approach with boards and committees, like the library and art centres, which set their budget at an automatic 2% increase, with special requests on top of that. New projects should – where possible – be accommodated by repurposing or stopping other activities.

Finally, when we report spending and tax increases, we must report the total number, not separate out the hospital levy or other special levies to make the increase appear smaller. You pay the full amount – it needs to be reported that way.