Burlington council fights as unproductive budget meeting goes off the rails

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Published December 2, 2021 at 7:23 pm

Today’s City of Burlington budget meeting, the culmination of two full days of deliberations, fell apart at the end when the chair realized there wasn’t enough support to pass all the changes they’d agreed to.

The meeting was spent going through the proposed 2022 budget line by line, with councillors trying to pare down the initial projection of a 5.45 per cent increase on the city portion of residential taxes.

Early in the day’s meeting, which was broadcast live on the city’s web page and included the mayor and all six councillors, motion after motion to find small savings were defeated overwhelmingly, with only on the initial mover voting in favour.

As the meeting progressed, some of the motions began to pass and, at the end of the day, the proposed increase had been whittled down by half-a-point, to 4.95 per cent. Including the regional and school board budgets, the overall impact to local taxpayers would be a 3.02 per cent increase, down from the initial 3.18 per cent.

During the closing comments, however, at least three council members, including Mayor Marianne Meed Ward, said they wouldn’t support the budget as proposed because it didn’t go far enough to limit the tax increase.

Chair Rory Nisan realized the budget wasn’t going to pass and immediately started scrambling for a way to get it done. After taking a couple of short breaks, Meed Ward proposed that staff find additional savings.

And that’s when things got testy. Some councillors were in favour of asking the staff to report back while others thought that was a futile suggestion, as staff as already made their recommendations.

At 5 p.m. the meeting was adjourned for 90 minutes, as it had extended well past the initial window and other obligations were beginning to interfere with the councillors’ abilities to focus fully on the matter at hand.

When it reconvened, city clerk Kevin Arjoon advised council what would happen if the proposed budget was defeated.

At the end of the day, the sharply divided council decided to continue the meeting in a week, giving them time to find new ways to get the increase down.

The budget, one way or another, is scheduled for final approval on Dec. 14.

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