Patrick Brown makes misleading claims about funds City Hall doesn’t have; postpones more crucial projects in latest slapstick budget
The City of Brampton’s budget has become a lesson in chaos. The document for 2023 includes money the City doesn’t even have.
Following the election of Patrick Brown as mayor in 2018, processes meant to keep the City’s financial blueprint transparent to the public and plans on track for future spending to ensure stability in coming years began to erode or disappear entirely.
The 10-year capital plan—a standard practice for municipalities across the country—gone. Priorities to balance investment into significant infrastructure projects like the City’s downtown core—eliminated. Responsible tax increases to keep up with inflation, infrastructure needs and economic development to ensure Brampton’s competitiveness—ignored in favour of Brown’s reckless budget freezes.
Key projects to move the city were ignored. Others were postponed time and again. Brown’s 2018 campaign promise to build a world-class cricket stadium before the last term ended, was broken. His claim of being able to secure more than a billion dollars to fund a tunnelled downtown LRT, was also forgotten. It was the same for the long promised downtown redevelopment, which he first postponed, then cancelled.
The massive Riverwalk project, to protect the city centre from flooding, was another critical investment Brown pushed off the budget. He refused to support an emergency levy needed for the City’s share toward Peel Memorial’s badly needed redevelopment, despite Brampton’s ongoing healthcare crisis (a majority of councillors ignored him last year and voted to ensure the project will move forward).
Key investments to ensure post-secondary expansion were neglected, leading Guelph University and Humber College to pull out of a partnership. The Centre for Innovation that was supposed to be built to house their new downtown campus, is nowhere to be seen. The two post-secondary institutions stated they were forced to walk away due to “uncertainty around the construction”. Brown then publicly lied about the decision, claiming a group of councillors who were outspoken about his failed leadership had voted to cancel the Guelph-Humber project, which was blatantly untrue.
Another plan to bring Toronto Metropolitan University downtown was also cancelled when Brown failed to salvage the project after the province said it could not afford to participate.
The list goes on.
The council-approved financial master plan was thrown out the window. The three-year rolling budget process to help prepare for near-term needs was dropped.
Reserve funds, instead of properly budgeted plans approved by council in a transparent process, were suddenly used by Brown to cover expenses that could not be monitored by the public.
Last year’s budget was such a farce the Brampton Board of Trade expressed dire concern about the ongoing financial management of the city under Brown and his former CAO, David Barrick, hired by the mayor and responsible for managing the City’s finances despite not having any experience running even a small municipal department. Councillors warned that “cutting everywhere” to achieve Brown’s desired budget freezes would jeopardize the city’s future and put taxpayers at risk when all the bills come due.
According to the 2023 budget document, the spending plan “prioritizes the needs of our community so we can build a foundation for the future”. The proposed 2023 budget calls for a tax increase of 2.9 percent, or an additional $177 on the average household bill.
The proposed increase could be reduced during budget deliberations this week if council chooses to delay spending on projects to later years.
The 2023 budget document is drastically different from what was initially proposed in the 2023 forecast laid out as part of the budget process last year. Numerous items initially slated to move forward this year have been pushed to 2024 or beyond, many of them critical pieces of infrastructure including fire stations and community centres.
A bright spot in the draft budget is a service boost for Brampton Transit, but it would come with a 10 percent fare increase for riders. This means a $4 cash fare will cost an extra 40 cents, or a $3.10 adult PRESTO fare will be about $3.40. The additional revenue will be used to add over 84,000 additional service hours to Brampton Transit routes to meet demand that has surged above levels seen before the pandemic. The service is projecting 35.6 million riders in 2023, continuing the steady increase from 19.5 million in 2021 and 31.3 million in 2022, as ridership recovers after almost three years of disruption.
Those who travel along the Chinguacousy corridor have a reason to celebrate, with the proposal of $15.4 million in 2023 for the implementation of Züm Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) services, planned to become operational in 2024/2025.
The Brampton Transit budget is seeing a significant funding boost to increase service levels in 2023.
(Alexis Wright/The Pointer)
The release of the draft budget on February 15 comes after the City of Mississauga and the Region of Peel have already gone through days of deliberations and approved their own budgets. The Town of Caledon is also well on its way to concluding its budget process with approval scheduled for February 28. It’s unclear why the City of Brampton delayed its process with approval set to drag past the halfway mark of the first quarter.
The budget document reflects the many challenges facing Brampton and other municipalities—COVID-19 recovery, record-high inflation, high borrowing rates. The consequences of Brown’s failure to make responsible fiscal decisions, in favour of budget freezes he used as a slogan while campaigning last year to become the federal Conservative Party leader, are laid out in the pages of the 2023 document. Numerous capital projects previously slated to move ahead this year are being postponed, once again.
The mayor has been widely criticized for claiming he can simultaneously freeze the budget, and make new investments in critically needed projects. Critics have warned the city is becoming less competitive. It still does not have a standalone university, the downtown abandoned by Brown is crumbling, post-secondary partners have pulled out, arts and culture are dramatically underfunded and economic development has been almost non-existent since he became mayor.
His CPC leadership campaign (he ran for much of last year, skipping key council votes and decisions while criss-crossing the country, until he was disqualified from the race) highlighted one accomplishment, that he kept the City’s budget frozen, as spending for the future was neglected.
The proposed 2023 operating and capital budgets are $844 million and $492 million respectively. The proposed capital expenditure for this year is slightly higher than the $485.7 million that had been projected in last year’s budget. One major increase is for transit, going from a projected $112 million to $275 million. This appears to be driven by the questionable addition of $150 million to electrify the new Brampton Transit maintenance facility. The amount, which would have to come from the federal and provincial government, has been included in the capital budget despite no approval from Ottawa and Queen’s Park. It’s highly unusual for a municipality to publish a budget document that includes funding before it has been secured.
Large municipalities can have billions of dollars in outstanding funding requests, but proper accounting does not allow unapproved money to be shown in a capital budget. It’s unclear why the City of Brampton has done this.
The transit facility is desperately needed and years overdue, after Brown had it removed from the budget in 2019, to make good on his election promise to freeze spending.
Staff at City Hall have been concerned about the lack of storage and maintenance space for Brampton Transit for years, which has prevented the system from expanding to meet growing ridership demands. The City’s transit operator has been managing with only two storage garages which have been operating at their maximum with 450 buses. In 2015, the City’s master plan stated there would need to be a third garage in 2021, then another in 2028. In 2019, council, under Brown’s direction, moved away from the plan, deciding to build a larger facility later despite the immediate need. The new facility was supposed to combine two major garages. The build was slated for 2024, but it has once again been pushed back.
Design is now underway, with completion anticipated for late-2026. The $150 million budgeted in 2023 for the project has to come from the federal and provincial governments, on top of $60 million they have been asked to cover for an electrification retrofit of Brampton Transit’s Sandalwood storage facility.
The City of Brampton has yet to receive the $210 million for these two projects. It’s unclear why they are being included as part of the City’s overall capital budget when there has been no public assurances from upper levels of government that the funding will be approved.
When asked at a public budget meeting with residents if the money shown in the capital budget had actually been approved, Brown said it was “let out of the bag a little bit.”
Brown told attendees, “There is an announcement pending. So Nash (Damer, the City treasurer) may have let that out of the bag a little bit, but there is good news coming on the transit front—so stay tuned for that announcement we’re very excited for.”
The Pointer sent questions to the City last week, seeking clarification about why the published capital budget document includes money that has not been approved.
According to a City of Brampton spokesperson the two projects are included in the budget so “Council approves them in principle, from a cost perspective, but they are contingent upon funding from provincial and federal governments.”
A more clear answer was given during budget deliberations Monday, when a presentation to councillors included the two items on a list of “unfunded” projects, which is not how they are described in the budget document released two weeks ago.
A presentation to Brampton councillors which lists the two electrification projects included as part of the 2023 capital plan as “unfunded”.
(City of Brampton)
“On the capital side, we have a bunch of programs that we’re in the midst of implementing or advocating for in terms of the electrification program,” Council was told by staff. “The one that you’re all aware of is the third facility electrification, you know we have ICIP funding to build a third facility as part of our growth. We are trying to electrify that facility with the perfect opportunity of building a new, state of the art facility and having it fully capable of housing electric vehicles. That’s a $150 million dollar ask that we’re asking the provincial and federal governments to fund. We have gained a lot of traction from the federal government and some substantial interest from the provincial government that we’re working on with the hopes that we will have some good news in the very near future.”
Neither the provincial or federal government confirmed these grants have been approved.
A spokesperson for the provincial Ministry of Transportation (MTO) stated the ministry is aware these projects “have been or will be submitted” under the Zero Emission Transit Fund (ZETF) program through Infrastructure Canada.
Infrastructure Canada also would not confirm the grants have been approved, stating “we will continue to work with the City of Brampton and all communities to invest in clean, convenient public transit,” when asked by The Pointer.
The federal and provincial governments would not confirm Mayor Patrick Brown’s claims that $210 million in grants for city projects have been approved.
(Alexis Wright/The Pointer)
This would not be the first time Brown and the City of Brampton jumped the gun on assuming support for critical infrastructure projects from upper levels of government. Following a healthcare announcement in January 2020, Brown claimed Premier Doug Ford had committed to a third hospital in the city. That was not the case. Ford was talking about the expansion of Peel Memorial (which is not a hospital) and his office had to correct Brown’s misleading claims.
When Brown ran for the CPC leadership he claimed Brampton had a fully electrified transit system, which, once again, was blatantly untrue. It has fallen far behind other cities that have been investing in electric/hybrid buses, while Brown has kept the city’s budget frozen.
The proposed 2023 budget does include a Zero-Emission Bus (ZEB) Implementation Strategy & Rollout Plan slated for release this year. The City will also be purchasing its first 10 battery electric buses for a one-year pilot program, through Canada Infrastructure Bank financing, as well as 38 replacement diesel buses, a sign that Brampton Transit is still moving in the wrong direction in the race to green its fleet.
With Brampton Transit’s refurbishment program, the buses have an 18 year expected lifespan. As a result, Brampton Transit will not be fully electrified until no earlier than 2041. Council’s current goal is to reduce GHG emissions by 80 percent from 2016 levels by 2050.
In 2019, the City of Brampton declared a climate emergency. The symbolic gesture did little to change the way the municipality operated, with councillors, led by Brown, endorsing the PC government’s Highway 413 plan which has been heavily criticized by environmental groups and residents across Ontario.
The downtown flood mitigation Riverwalk project, which has been promised $38 million in funding from the federal government, will keep Etobicoke Creek from posing an immediate risk during heavy rainfall events and finally allow major development in the city centre that cannot move forward until the risk is mitigated.
Staff are budgeting $20 million for the project this year, doubling the investment of $9.3 million in 2022. Construction is currently slated to begin in 2024, and will roll out in phases.
Several capital projects are delayed from the three-year forecast outlined in the 2022 budget, including the CAA Centre cricket stadium, which was previously planned to have Council invest $35 million in 2023. That investment has now been delayed to 2025, after Brown first promised to have the stadium built by the end of 2022.
Investments for construction on the Embleton Recreation Centre have also been pushed back, after the 2022 budget forecast $60 million for the project in this year’s budget; it has now been delayed until 2024.
Another big ticket item with a questionable financial future is Brampton’s Entrepreneur Centre-Innovation District Expansion, which will not be receiving funds in 2023 – a change of plans from 2022’s budget which forecast $1.2 million to be invested in 2023 for economic development. Planned investments have now been pushed to 2025, another example of Brown’s kick-it-down-the-road approach.
In 2019, the City committed to take on about $50 million in debt to fund the $100 million project.
By the time the 2022 budget was approved, the City had allocated $99.4 million for the Centre but the failure to move forward, as Brown refused to make investments, led to new cost estimates of around $173 million. In the 2022 budget the City allocated another $20 million for interior design, but pushed back the build to 2024.
The Centre, which has been advertised as “an iconic gateway building that will offer a new central library, collaborative space for postsecondary institutions and office space” received a major blow in October when the University of Guelph and Humber College, who were set to be the anchor tenant, pulled out.
The University of Guelph-Humber said attempts to find additional space had been unsuccessful and the City’s failure to begin construction on the Centre forced the cancellation of the plan.
The Centre is receiving no funds in 2023, while the Innovation District will get $150,000 for signage, despite the lack of any new buildings.
The proposed 2023 budget also includes $4.9 million toward the $125 million needed for the City’s share of the Peel Memorial expansion (a special one percent levy to cover most of the remaining amount, which Brown refused to support, was introduced last year).
Council budget deliberations began Monday and will continue Tuesday, with approval set for March 8.
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