Brampton Council makes over $8M in last minute budget additions; business community raises red flags over poor planning
Brampton Council members have made a number of pricey additions to the financial plan for the year, totalling over $8 million.
The projects added include $2.6 million for the demolition of a building and design for an Arts and Culture Centre on the site, $3.5 million for the design of an Environmental Education Centre (which will also include an animal shelter and veteran’s support services), and one million for outdoor ice rinks.
The design for the Arts and Culture Centre and the $1 million for additional outdoor ice rinks would be covered through reserve funds, and should not have any impact on the 2.9 percent tax increase currently proposed for the 2023 budget.
If approved with the proposed increase, residents will pay approximately $177 more, on the average property bill.
The Brampton Board of Trade released a statement late last month on the City’s proposed budget, highly critical of the way its finances have been managed since Patrick Brown became mayor in 2018.
“The Brampton Board of Trade has been warning its members to anticipate a huge spike given 3 years of 0% from 2019-2021 and a 1% increase in 2022,” the statement highlights.
The business organization, which represents hundreds of entrepreneurs and corporations across the city, was critical of the lack of action council members have taken to protect taxpayers, after a consultation between elected members and the BBOT.
“At a recent city budget consultation with the business community, it became clear that, as of yet, City Council has not asked staff for a set of recommendations,” to manage any excessive tax increase through changes to the proposed budget, according to the release on February 24.
“It appears no options are being presented to Council. Why not?”
Now, members are scrambling to approve a budget while additions and subtractions are being made on the fly.
It’s unclear how the $3.5 million for the multi-use centre will be paid. The budget document states this funding was initially planned to come from the tax base in 2024, but the now expanded project has been moved to this year, provisionally. The City did not respond to a request for clarification.
Originally, the money was earmarked for 2024 to design and build a 25,000 square foot animal shelter. The budget document states the existing animal shelter on Chrysler Drive is undersized and staff are working out of other facilities.
Following a motion from Councillor Michael Palleschi, the project has been accelerated to this year with the addition of an Environmental Education Centre and space dedicated to the Centre for Community Energy Transformation.
“I looked at some of the items in the budget and I know that we’ve talked in the past about the animal shelter and it’s gone places and pulled from places and ultimately it’s really needed,” Palleschi explained while introducing the motion which moved the animal shelter up and added the Environmental Education Centre in the same facility.
His motion states the animal shelter and environmental education centre should be designed as a “joint complex” in order to “maximize efficiencies.”
Palleschi added the Credit Valley Conservation Authority could be responsible for the Centre’s programming, which would be a benefit to students who previously had to travel outside the city for such outdoor education opportunities.
“Schools found it too expensive to go up to Ballinafad, go up to Terra Cotta in buses, and children, our kids, weren’t learning about the environment as well as we feel they should be. It’s one of the fastest growing changes in workplaces, in schooling now. It’s getting a lot of positivity towards it. I think this is one step in the right direction we can provide to our youth.”
It’s unclear how a budget of $3.5 million initially meant for an animal shelter alone will now be used to design a dual-use facility with educational components for a completely different function. Another twist to the plan was added when the need for a potential veterans’ support centre was also raised during budget deliberations Monday.
The addition followed a delegation from a former Canadian Forces service member who shared his struggles with PTSD as a result of his time serving, and asked council to support increased services for veterans in the city as the wait times for assistance from the federal government can be excessive.
Councillor Dennis Keenan requested an amendment to Palleschi’s motion to include support services for veterans and first responders as part of the design for the animal shelter, which will now also include an environmental education centre.
The amendment also requested staff to look into “possible program partnerships between the joint complex and veterans and first responders, whereby the former will serve as a safe space for the latter to actively engage with the community.”
Council also requested staff to engage in a potential partnership with the Post Traumatic Growth Association (PTGA) and seek funding for space and operations from the Department of National Defence and Veterans Affairs.
The purpose of the facility appeared to create confusion among councillors.
“I just want to understand. I just want to know I understand,” Councillor Harkirat Singh said as Keenan’s amendment was added. “Originally, $3.5 million was allocated for an animal shelter. Now we’re moving it up to 2023 and we’re going to do an animal shelter and Environmental Education Centre. Is that the intent of the motion? Plus we’re going to do a Post Traumatic Growth Association? That’s the intent of the motion amendment by Councillor Keenan?”
The lack of planning for the City’s needs was previously criticized after Brown had three-year budget projections, common in every large Canadian city, and many smaller ones, removed from Brampton’s process shortly after he first took office.
“Also, while other municipalities such as Mississauga and Peel help businesses prepare by providing multi-year property tax forecasts, the City of Brampton will not,” the Board of Trade stated in its February release. “It would be very helpful for Brampton businesses to have an idea of estimated property tax rates over the next 2-3 years to offer investment predictability. Peel can do this for 3 years. Mississauga does it for four years. Why not Brampton?”
Singh questioned the amount of funding available for the facility that will suddenly have to house three separate organizations, stating it “is not going to be enough”, but was generally supportive of the idea, noting “we can probably get sponsors and stuff to help out too.”
The multi-use centre wasn’t the only change to the budget.
Council introduced a new capital project in the amount of $2.6 million from reserve funding for the demolition of the heritage property located at 8990 McLaughlin Road, and the design of an Arts and Culture Centre.
Brown has also been criticized for removing the ten-year capital plan from Brampton’s budget process, a move that was unheard of in municipal government and stripped away the ability to plan for short and long-term project needs.
The result is what was seen Monday, with council members such as Singh expressing confusion over the last-minute moves to suddenly add capital expenditures and initiatives, without any public consultation, direction from staff or financial analysis of how the City will pay for these snap decisions.
The Board of Trade took aim at the problems this is creating.
“Brampton has a long history of budgeting for projects that are often delayed. This puts burden on taxpayers well in advance of seeing the actual projects built. In the 2023 proposed budget, there is approximately half a billion dollars budgeted but it is not reasonable that all of that will be spent in that year. Staff even showed in the budget documents that Brampton expects to spend only $200 million in 2023 for all projects, including ones previously approved. The amount of approved” projects “continues to grow annually, sometimes as much as by $200-300 million, with the total sum now over $1.2 billion. With the proposed budget from staff this will exceed $1.5 billion at the end of 2023. Wow!”
With the addition of a new arts facility and a multi-purpose building to house three separate services, with no money budgeted for their actual construction, the building costs will have to be added to the rapidly growing list of Brampton projects that have been approved, with no clear idea of when money will actually be committed to them.
The business community raised more concerns about the City’s financial management of the public’s money.
“Staff should be able to provide more detail, verification and targets for Council otherwise no one will believe the city’s capital budget expenditure forecasts.”
Council delegated authority to the CAO to expedite the actions necessary to prepare the site designated to support the arts, issue a call for proposals to solicit consulting services and evaluate the needs of the arts and cultural sectors in the community, as well as determine the size, scope and funding strategy for a purpose built Arts and Culture Centre including accommodations for community space.
The lack of earlier planning for the initiative, to avoid making key decisions with very little information, cutting out the public from the process, just three days before the budget is set to be approved, was another example of the way taxpayer dollars are being managed under Brown.
It’s unclear what the building at 8990 McLaughlin Road is currently used for. It sits within the Flower City Community Campus which includes other City amenities including a seniors centre.
With the inclusion, Council removed a $60,000 Brampton Arts and Culture Hub Feasibility Study previously listed in the budget.
The last minute addition of demolishing a building and designing a dedicated facility for arts and culture in Brampton came after years of underfunding. In 2019 the Brampton Arts Coalition Committee (BACC) made a presentation to Council, showing that using a conservative population estimate of 594,000 residents, the City was putting less than a dollar per person toward the arts, the lowest among Canada’s big cities. By comparison, Vancouver spent $47 per resident, Calgary spent $42, and Toronto spent $25 per resident toward arts and culture.
The final change to the budget on Monday was the addition of $1 million from reserves to establish two outdoor artificial rinks at Boreham Park and Peel Village, similar to the rink currently at Duggan Park.
Council passed a motion that $2.7 million from development charges be used for new park amenities in Ward 4. Councillors did not clarify which park this money would be used for.
“This is for the park in a certain subdivision, I believe it’s the Moncton subdivision,” Brown said, as the motion he presented was pulled up to be seconded by Councillors Martin Medeiros and Dennis Keenan. The text did not state the name of the park.
Additionally, a new $100,000 capital project is included in the 2023 budget to initiate a feasibility study for the winter optimization of recreation amenities to be funded by reserves. Staff were directed to report back to Council with an implementation plan to optimize recreation amenities for winter, such as a pilot project for winter availability for tennis, soccer, basketball and cricket for the 2023- 2024 winter season.
As a result of the changes, Councillor Rowena Santos asked staff to review and identify opportunities for potential savings in relation to other projects in the 2023 budget that may no longer be necessary or may have changed in scope, and report back to Council on Thursday, when approval of the 2023 budget is expected at the meeting set to begin at 7 P.M.
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