Brampton budget passes with 2.9% tax increase; Recreation Centre postponed in strange twist
Brampton’s 2023 budget has officially passed, locking in a 10 percent hike to Brampton Transit fares and a 2.9 percent tax increase on the City’s share of the property bill, resulting in residents paying approximately $177 more on average.
Council held a series of meetings over the last two weeks, hearing from the City of Brampton’s various departments and their respective senior managers who laid out their needs for the coming year. Early in deliberations, the City released a series of budget highlights for public consumption which lay out the big ticket investments coming in 2023, including: $9 million for cricket, soccer and tennis fields; and $21 million over three years dedicated to downtown revitalization (a fraction of what the cancelled, much larger Downtown Reimagined plan would have cost—Patrick Brown cut it shortly after getting elected in 2018). Brampton Transit is getting a significant boost in 2023 with $15.4 million for Zum expansion along the Chinguacousy corridor; and $16 million for bus refurbishments.
In previous years under Brown, council has used the budget deliberations as an opportunity to remove capital projects from the annual financial plan in an effort to cut the proposed tax increase down to zero. It was clear the mayor and council had no such desire this year, as the additional revenue is desperately needed to stave off the financial pressure from record-high inflation and desperately needed infrastructure spending to meet the needs of the growing city.
Many of those needs have been ignored for four years, under Brown’s demands to freeze the budget.
Mayor Patrick Brown has pushed repeated tax freezes in Brampton which have placed significant pressure on City finances.
(Alexis Wright/The Pointer)
Aside from a series of small additions—totalling approximately $8 million—and the removal of $24 million for the redevelopment of the Howden Recreation Centre, the budget passed Tuesday evening with few changes to the document made public last month.
The final capital budget for 2023 is $496 million. But there is a giant asterisk on this dollar amount as $210 million is grants from the federal and provincial government that the City has yet to receive. Of this $210 million, $150 million is for a third transit maintenance facility, and $60 million is to retrofit the existing Sandalwood transit maintenance facility, both are significant projects required to help the City transition its transit fleet from diesel to electric. Brown had claimed that an announcement on this funding is pending, but a presentation from staff days later listed the two projects as unfunded. The provincial and federal governments would not confirm whether the funding has been approved.
The third facility has been delayed for years and Brown has repeatedly postponed funding while he refused to expand the City budget throughout all of the last term. He made claims early last term that funding from higher levels of government for the electrification of transit facilities had been committed; it had not, and the City’s transit system remains bottlenecked without the delayed storage and maintenance space needed to meet growing ridership demand.
As Council met on Thursday evening to approve the budget, one capital project was removed from this year’s capital plan. A $24 million redevelopment of the Howden Recreation Centre, including design ahead of potential construction toward the end of the year was originally meant to move forward in 2023, but council pulled it from the budget after an 8-3 vote.
The centre’s redevelopment was first brought to council in 2018. In 2021 elected members approved demolition of the facility in preparation of the build. The construction is being funded 50 percent through federal grants, and 50 percent through development charges.
Councillor Michael Palleschi moved that the project be pushed to 2024, and the money be used instead for the Embleton Recreation Centre, a $60-million project which was originally meant to see funding pulled from reserves to move forward in 2024.
“We’re really getting hammered in the west end of Brampton on the lack of recreation for the community. I’ve done some work on this to see what the geographic area is, and just in a little bit of Ward 6, Ward 4 and Ward 5 we have over 60,000 people that aren’t even close to a rec centre,” Palleschi said.
The Embleton Recreation Centre will serve new developments and the growing needs of west Brampton including indoor and outdoor programming and amenities.
Staff clarified that deferring Howden doesn’t affect the delivery of Embleton.
Councillor Pat Fortini, Rod Power and Martin Medeiros voted against the change.
Despite staff telling councillors that reallocating the funding will not move the timeline for Embleton forward, but will delay Howden, the motion passed, seconded by Councillor Rowena Santos.
“So if we were to reallocate the resources as was suggested, we take away the money and say, ‘We leave Howden for a year and full steam ahead with Embleton’ it really doesn’t do much with timing and servicing the area; am I right?” Councillor Medeiros asked staff.
“Through you Mr. Mayor, you are right,” a senior City staff member answered.
Councillor Fortini, who has championed the Howden project, expressed deep disapproval over Palleschi’s motion to delay the build.
“So we tore down a building and we’re not sure we’re going to build? The swimming pool was closed for years because there was some issues there with the pool. It was broken, not safe, the ceiling—but the building was being used, and there’s really nothing around that geographic area besides Professor's Lake (Recreation Centre),” Fortini said, expressing his frustration with the motion.
“I’m not going to support this. I’m not saying don’t support Councillor Palleschi’s (project) but this is way ahead. If this comes up, that’s fine too—but don’t remove funding from here when it’s federal and let it sit. Why let it sit? Construction is just going to cost 20 percent more, we started this with $18 million in 2018…”.
Another item greenlit during the budget approval meeting Thursday was $1,376,000 from reserves for four high-resolution traffic cameras with recording capability. Staff are expected to report back on operating and capital costs of installing specialized cameras with a presentation to Council prior to camera selection.
There were eight capital budget amendments added through the two weeks of deliberations, many of them involving dipping into the City’s reserve accounts for funding, an unusual practice used since Brown arrived at City Hall. Using reserve accounts instead of detailing line item expenditures with each officially approved by elected officials, prevents taxpayers from knowing exactly how their money is being spent before the budget is approved.
Even when spending from reserves is identified it is difficult to determine when those funds were put into the reserve accounts, which are supposed to be used for specific purposes and in case emergency spending is needed.
Brown’s approach prevents the public from knowing how their money is being spent each year, and whether or not City officials are responsibly and effectively managing finances.
This year, more items will be funded out of reserves, but some of that money likely came from previous years, before Brown was first elected. His claims of freezing the budget while paying for needed services and projects are misleading, as many of the projects he cancelled or postponed will likely be funded by money that was set aside long before he arrived in Brampton.
One of the projects coming out of reserves is $200,000 for the Brampton Canadettes Girls Hockey Association to provide a grant to renovate the dedicated player change rooms and coaches change rooms at Century Gardens Recreation Centre. It was originally $164,000, but was amended by Council during the final budget approval meeting.
Another is a feasibility study for a Brampton Arts and Culture Hub, also funded through reserves, for $60,000; and $2.6 million is being allocated through the Canada Community Building fund grant for the design of the facility as well as the demolition of the former Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) building at 8990 McLaughlin Road.
The Environmental Education Centre, animal shelter and Post Traumatic Growth Association space for $3.5 million will also be funded from reserves. 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 motions from councillors Palleschi and Dennis Keenan earlier in budget deliberations, the project has been accelerated to this year with the addition of an Environmental Education Centre as well as room for support services for veterans and first responders.
The fifth item funded from reserves is $2.7 million from recreation development charges to be used for new park amenities in Ward 4. Councillors did not clarify which park this money would be used for.
Another budget amendment is 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.
The seventh item being funded from reserves is a new $100,000 capital project 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.
The eighth was $1.2 million for traffic calming speed cushions, also funded through reserves.
Additions to the operating budget which sprung from deliberations over the past two weeks include a communications department increase for $174,057, a Councillor budget increase for $250,000, and “Youth Employment and Engagement” for $350,000. The Youth Employment and Engagement item follows a staff presentation to Council on February 22, where staff were instructed to develop and implement an internal corporate framework to standardize and improve the transparency to youth employment, skills and learning opportunities at the City of Brampton, and that staff review and implement a comprehensive Youth Engagement Strategy inclusive of the enhancement opportunities listed in the report. Staff were also instructed to formalize a Brampton Youth Council and report back with an implementation strategy, resourcing and costing requirements. The City has been criticized in the past, when former mayor Susan Fennell used a similar initiative to expand her political reach with potential voters.
With these added expenses, several subtractions were made from the budget including $60,000 from the Civic Centre, and $40,000 for security systems.
A total of $3,191,902 in projects were listed under “return of financing,” meaning Council no longer intends to fund these previously approved expenditures. These include three corporate technology programs, totalling $689,800; facilities repair & replacement for $527,280, a Citizen Service Program for $501,000, the Caledon barn restoration for $500,000, a bus storage repair facility for $390,044, a core technologies program for $231,100, a community improvement plan for $210,097 and the barn’s reconstruction for $142,581.
The Caledon barn restoration and reconstruction refers to a cancelled heritage project following the City’s purchase of a disassembled historic Caledon barn for $2,500. The building was intended to be reconstructed at the Historic Bovaird House site, a mid-19th century Ontario farmhouse, which is used by volunteers to give community tours and hold events. The project has since been halted by Council.
Council also removed a long-planned noise wall along Torbram Road, which resulted in $4.5 million being taken out of the 2023 financial plan.
There was one deferred project, parking garage repairs Council put off until 2024, saving $1 million for the year.
The budget used to include a detailed list of all deferred projects, to show the public which needs are being neglected. But after Brown was first elected this was another transparency mechanism removed from regular reporting practices meant to keep taxpayers informed.
A previously uncounted revenue source, the provincial gas tax increase, resulted in the City earning an additional $600,000 for the 2023 budget year.
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