Patrick Brown’s murky budget once again fails Brampton taxpayers; downtown redevelopment, university, LRT, cricket stadium among missing items
Mayor Patrick Brown’s budget for 2024 barely resembles what you would see in other large Canadian cities. There is no five or ten-year capital plan to track progress on Brampton’s key priorities; basic information to gauge his administration’s stewardship of taxpayer money is missing; key projects have been postponed or cut; and reserve accounts meant to fund specific needs are being used like a secret piggy bank that can’t be monitored.
The chart above is a common breakdown in all municipal budgets and was included in the 2023 Brampton budget document to show taxpayers if elected officials and bureaucrats were responsibly managing taxpayer dollars. It highlighted the 7.3 percent increase to the overall City budget under the leadership of council members and senior staff. But on the same page in Patrick Brown’s “Strong Mayor Powers” budget for 2024 you won’t find this chart. He has not allowed taxpayers to see exactly how their money is being used.
According to figures in the document the overall proposed budget for 2024 is $1.457 billion. The figure for 2023 was $1.341 billion. This means the percentage increase of the 2024 budget proposed by Brown is 8.7 percent. This should equate to an approximately 4 percent increase to the City’s share of the 2024 property tax bill, but Brown is telling taxpayers this figure will only be 1.9 percent. He has not shown in the budget document how he plans to reduce the increase by more than half what it should be for a budget that is $116 million larger than the 2023 Brampton budget. None of these details or explanations are included in Brown’s 2024 budget document.
If he is using reserve accounts to fund half of the $116 million increase, this is not clear. If there are other sources of revenue being used to fund the increase, aside from property taxes, this is not highlighted in Brown’s opaque budget document.
His 1.9 percent increase to the City’s share of the 2024 property tax bill has to be added to the Region of Peel’s proposed 4.5 percent increase to its share of the 2024 bill. If these figures do not change, and if the provincial education portion is once again not increased, Brampton’s residential property owners will see a 6.4 percent increase on their tax bill next year, or $365 for a home with the average assessed value of $542,000. With the proposed water utility increase of 6.8 percent, the combined tax and utility bill for 2024 will be $443 higher, for a home with an average value.
What are Brampton taxpayers getting for this proposed increase?
The city’s infrastructure is aging, its services are seeing unprecedented demand and quality of life for residents is declining, all while the population booms. But under Brown’s leadership taxpayers see yet another budget proposal that cuts badly needed funding while boasting about basic services.
This is the first budget the City has released following new provincial legislation that created “Strong Mayor Powers”, which give Brown the authority to design Brampton’s financial blueprint as he sees fit. The new powers handed down by Queen’s Park have been labelled as undemocratic by critics, and a former councillor went to Queen’s Park last year asking the province not to extend the unprecedented authority to Brown because of his long track record of wrongdoing and financial mismanagement.
“My request here is that the province takes a very, very hard line on extending these powers to other mayors in other cities, in particular the city that I’m from, the City of Brampton, where Patrick Brown, and I will go through some of the reasons, has demonstrated why the strong mayor powers should not be given to certain individuals,” Jeff Bowman told members of the press and officials inside Queen’s Park.
“[T]he transparency that has to be involved with municipal government is not here in the City of Brampton.”
The 2024 budget is a continuation of the populist agenda Brown has pushed since his election in Brampton in 2018, when he campaigned on freezing the budget and did so for three straight years, despite the clear harm it was doing to the city as key projects like the downtown redevelopment, the Riverwalk, the extension of the Hurontario LRT, and sustainability efforts to combat climate change were completely ignored or pushed off. These cuts have left Bramptonians struggling, with many critical about the direction of the city. A recent survey commissioned by the City of Brampton highlighted declining happiness in the community, with 47 percent of participants saying their quality of life in the city has worsened over the last three years.
Based on the numbers in the 2024 proposed budget, Brown is not listening to these results. The survey revealed that 41 percent of residents were in favour of increasing taxes at or above the rate of inflation to maintain or expand city services.
The mayor’s budget proposes a 1.9 percent increase on the city’s share of the budget, neglecting badly needed projects and services. For example, the local share requirement for the Peel Memorial Phase 2 expansion has not been increased, leaving a shortfall, there is no money for an LRT, despite Brown claiming in 2019 that he could secure the required funding, there is nothing for a standalone university Brown promised, a world class cricket stadium he said would be built before 2022 once again has been ignored in the budget, downtown redevelopment funding for a project Brown cancelled, falsely citing engineering problems as an issue, has once again been ignored, and the list goes on.
His insistence on freezing the budget for three years and failing to bring in adequate revenue for these projects and other badly needed investments residents have demanded—funding for a new full-service hospital, high-order transit, expanded Brampton Transit service hours etc—continue to hamstring the city.
Now, spending in 2024 is increasing by 8.7 percent to a proposed $1.45 billion from $1.34 billion. The gap between what is being asked of taxpayers and the increase in the actual spending means city officials will need to rely on rainy day reserve funds, or dollars from upper levels of government to move forward with crucial investments. But these sources of funding are either tied to specific purposes, like designated reserves, or are unreliable, like many of the grant requests to upper levels of government, which expect cities to contribute their share before they flow the money. Brampton, under Brown, has not been able to do this. The uncertainty leaves the City of Brampton with no choice but to cut planned spending for 2024.
Brown’s budget proposes an overall capital spend of $543.6 million. In his opening message attached to the financial document, he boasts of investments into transit, parks, recreation, roads and bridges. What he fails to mention is he is cutting spending in all of those areas. Compared to the 3-year forecast approved as part of the 2023 budget discussions, Brown has chopped $21.6 million from the 2024 capital plan. When Brown was first elected, he eliminated the widely-accepted practice of published 10-year capital plans. For that reason, it is difficult for the public to gauge the long-term financial planning of the City of Brampton.
Brown’s budget, if approved as is, will see the elimination of funds for the Brampton Library (cut of $1.7 million); Parks Maintenance and Forestry (cut of $1.2 million); Economic Development (cut of $1.8 million)—despite a 2018 promise from Brown that every development “will be looked at through the lens of economic development”; Downtown revitalization (a nearly $20 million investment has been delayed until next year); Environment and Development Engineering (cut of $7.4 million), including implementation efforts for Brampton’s Environmental Master Plan and efforts to maintain and restore aging stormwater ponds—a similar lack of foresight in Niagara Falls has resulted in the need to spend millions of dollars on these critical pieces of infrastructure over the coming years.
While Brown’s budget adds an additional $5 million for road resurfacing projects, it cuts nearly $4 million in bridge repairs from the previously planned $9 million investment in 2024. And despite his boast of hiring a record number of transit operators for 2024, the overall capital investment for Brampton Transit is being chopped from a planned $135.9 million to $91.9 million.
This is before mentioning the projects Brown has championed publicly during his tenure as mayor, none of which are receiving any funding in the 2024 budget.
When he was elected in 2018, Brown promised a world-class cricket facility for Brampton. Funding has yet to materialize for the project, and nothing substantial of the projected $49 million cost is included in the 2024 budget.
While the 2024 budget includes $87.2 million for the desperately needed Riverwalk flood mitigation project, $28.4 million of that is coming from the federal government. There is no mention or dollars allocated for the much larger, multi-million effort that will be needed to convert the entire Etobicoke Creek corridor into the walkable, green urban escape the City envisions.
Brown’s scandal-plagued promise to create a stand-alone university in Brampton—Brampton University—has been completely eliminated from the 2024 budget, save for the $28,000 sitting in a reserve fund for what now appears to be a dormant project that cost taxpayers over $630,000 in contracts handed to friends of Brown and Councillor Rowena Santos for work that was never done.
Despite Brown’s promise of a revitalized downtown, a planned $20 million investment has been pushed off to later years; and an initial $72.6 million planned for the Centre for Innovation in 2025 has been delayed until 2026, raising further questions about a project that has seen proponents pull out of with little in the way of updates from City Hall.
Brampton’s proposed 2024 budget includes a 1.9 percent tax increase to the City’s portion of the property tax bill.
(City of Brampton)
During his time as Brampton’s mayor, Brown has repeatedly frozen the budget, cutting support for important projects and services which was a central part of his platform when he ran last year for leader of the Conservative Party, before he was disqualified for alleged wrongdoing.
Brown states in his 2024 budget document that his blueprint “builds the Brampton advantage as a place to invest, raise a family, work, grow a business, and enjoy a great quality of life.” He claims “historic investments” in health care, citing the 1 percent health care levy that was already approved in 2022 for the purpose of funding Brampton’s local share for the redevelopment and expansion of Peel Memorial and a new Cancer Care Centre at Brampton Civic Hospital. Brown boasting about its inclusion in the 2024 budget comes after he refused to support its inclusion in 2022 when councillors fought for the special levy to address the ongoing healthcare crisis Brown ignored. He was campaigning for the leadership of the Conservative Party of Canada and refused to support the tax increase so he could campaign as the only mayor who had frozen his city’s budget for consecutive years. Brown has repeatedly asked upper levels of government to fund the project, including the Region of Peel, while refusing to put local dollars in the City budget.
Brown also claims he and the City are adding “unprecedented numbers of transit operators and are increasing service hours to respond to rapidly growing demand.” However, the 2023 approved budget forecasted an investment of $135.9 million toward transit operations in 2024, but Brown’s 2024 budget proposes a far lower investment, only $91.9 million, a $44.0 million cut to that department. Demands like transit service are hitting the city hard, with the population swelling and ridership rising with it. Average monthly ridership in the city was 2,610,000 in 2022, a 61 percent increase from the year before (largely due to shutdowns during the pandemic). The transit investment adds more hybrid electric buses to Brampton’s fleet, with 208 of the 533 buses projected to be cleaner models by the end of 2024. This is a far-cry from Brown’s false claim that Brampton had one of the first “fully electrified transit fleets” in Canada. The city has fallen far behind other large municipalities, including Mississauga, in budgeting for clean electric buses, still primarily relying on dirty diesel models.
The 2024 proposal shows Brown is once again ignoring financial planning commissioned by the City of Brampton and paid for by taxpayers to responsibly budget for future needs. Last Wednesday an updated ten-year financial strategy was delivered to council, calling for a 10-year average annual tax increase of 2.3 percent. Not only did Brown ignore this recommendation from his own financial experts in his proposed budget, he has refused for years to even show budget forecasts including a ten-year capital plan, which almost all other municipalities use as a vital blueprint to shape short and long-term financial decision making. Instead, Brown has no plan to budget for major infrastructure repairs, new roads, community centres, libraries, cultural venues, utility repairs, sports and recreational facilities, new features that should be funded alongside growth and all the other capital needs in Canada’s ninth largest city.
A staff report stated that in order to address all the required infrastructure and service expansions the city needs “the overall tax increases over the next 10 years will remain reasonable but above historical average trends in the City.”
Brown’s refusal to follow these recommendations comes after he threw out the previous version of the City’s financial master plan approved in 2017. That document recommended “modest” increases averaging between 3 and 5 percent, which was also ignored by council under Brown’s leadership when the overall budget in 2019 and 2020 did not see any increases.
Facilities Repair & Replacement are totaling $9.2 million in 2024, a decrease from the $15.6 million that was forecasted for next year in the 2023 approved budget. At the same time, “New Construction” is proposed to receive $128.0 million in 2024, which is actually an increase from the $93.2 million projected in the 2023 budget. But promised projects such as the cricket stadium are nowhere to be seen. Construction of the Centre for Innovation is receiving no investment in 2024 and now it won’t see a forecasted $72.7 million (identified for debt funding) until 2026, revealing another delay for a plan that Brown has been trumpeting for years.
There is no investment toward Stormwater and Environmental Monitoring for 2024 under the current proposed budget, whereas in the approved 2023 budget, $525,000 was supposed to be included next year.
The $35 million Brown first promised years ago for a cricket stadium was kicked down to future budgets, and does not appear anywhere in his proposed 2024 budget, after he promised a “world class” facility would be completed before the end of 2022. It’s the same story for his missing LRT and Brampton University; both are nowhere to be found in his budget.
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