Council approves 2023 budget directions with some changes

Ottawa city council has approved directions to staff to draft the 2023 budget with a 2 to 2.5 per cent property tax increase.

However, while the overall budget directions passed unanimously, the tax rate was not, with nine councillors voting against the direction to limit the property tax increase to 2.5 per cent.

Several councillors raised the issue of funding city services, saying the rate of inflation is outpacing funding.

“The reality is that tax increases that are drastically less than inflation ultimately translate into decreased service levels,” said Coun. Rawlson King.

Coun. Ariel Troster said residents of Somerset Ward are not asking for low taxes, but better services.

“I haven’t received a single email or phone call from residents asking me to keep taxes low. They are asking us to preserve and improve city services, so that’s where my priority is,” Troster said.

Capital Ward Coun. Shawn Menard said a 2.5 per cent across the board increase is unfair, as departments with smaller budgets get smaller increases.

“It means that the larger budgets automatically get a huge increase, whether they’re doing innovative things or not,” he said, contrasting the Ottawa Public Health budget to the Ottawa Police Services Budget. “That equates to 1.3 million for public health, and yet we’re increasing the police budget by 15 million.”

The vote on directing staff to draft the budget with a municipal tax increase between 2 and 2.5 per cent ultimately passed by a vote of 16 to 9.

In favour were: Cathy Curry, Glen Gower, David Brown, Matthew Luloff, Allan Hubley, Catherine Kitts, George Darouze, Stéphanie Plante, Laura Dudas, Wilson Lo, Jessica Bradley (with a dissent against the 2 to 2.5 per cent increase to the police services levy), David Hill, Tim Tierney, Steve Desroches, Clarke Kelly, and Mayor Mark Sutcliffe.

Against were: Riley Brockington, Theresa Kavanagh, Rawlson King, Jeff Leiper, Shawn Menard, Ariel Troster, Marty Carr, Sean Devine, and Laine Johnson.

The draft operating and capital budgets will be presented to Council on Feb. 1, 2023. The budget will be voted on in March.

Some of Sutcliffe’s campaign promises will be added to the 2023 budget.

Council approved freezing transit fares in 2023—a late campaign promise from Sutcliffe—and cutting youth recreational programming costs by 10 per cent.

The fare freeze was approved for the 2023 budget by a vote of 22 yeas to 3 nays. Couns. Riley Brockington, Allan Hubley and David Brown voted against the fare freeze. Brockington raised concerns about reducing revenue further at a time when OC Transpo is already facing significant budgetary pressures. Staff estimated a one-year fare freeze would cost approximately $5 million.

Staff estimate reducing recreation fees by 10 per cent would reduce revenue between $300,000 and $400,000. The fee reduction was approved unanimously. 

The city is facing a serious budget crunch after nearly three years of pandemic impacts. Staff warn the city of Ottawa is facing “unprecedented inflationary pressures” that will affect all city services next year.

“Significant increases on fuel, construction indices, parts and supplies will have a significant impact to the 2023 Budget pressures,” says a report prepared for Council. “Staff will also include a list of efficiencies and opportunities as part of the tabled 2023 Budget.”

The Ottawa Police Service would also be directed to draft the budget with a 2.5 per cent increase.

The draft operating and capital budgets will be presented to Council on Feb. 1, 2023. The budget will be voted on in March.

APPROVAL FOR CITY COMMITTEES

The city’s nominating committee recommended members and chairs for the city’s standing committees, subcommittees and boards Tuesday.

Council approved the nominations with three changes. 

Coun. Allan Hubley moved that he be removed from the Community Services Committee and be replaced by Coun. Stéphanie Plante. Another motion adds Coun. Shawn Menard to the Transit Commission. Bay Ward Coun. Theresa Kavanagh will be appointed to the newly-created Light Rail Subcommittee, in order to bring it to six members, give it gender parity, and allow her to be involved in decisions on light rail, which will directly affect Bay Ward.

The chairs of each of the city’s standing committees are all experienced councillors who have served at least one term before. The nominating committee named five councillors whose wards are inside the greenbelt and four outside the greenbelt as committee chairs this term. Last term, there were only two councillors inside the greenbelt sitting as committee chairs.

Chairs of each standing committee and the transit commission sit on the city’s powerful Finance and Corporate Services Committee.

SINGLE-USE PLASTICS

Another item on the council agenda is a motion calling on city staff to immediately stop buying single-use plastics, such as drinking straws and stir sticks. It would also direct staff to work on ways to reduce plastic waste.

The motion passed unanimously. 

The motion comes just days before the first phase of the federal government’s single-use plastic ban, which, as of Dec. 20, prohibits the manufacture and import for sale of many single-use plastics. The ban on sales of these products won’t come into effect for another year.

Kavanagh, who moved the motion that was seconded by the mayor, says stopping the purchase of single-use plastics is a good first step for the city.

“We have to start somewhere and this is really just the start of the immense problem that we have with the overflow of plastic,” Kavanagh told CTV News. “So if the city does it themselves, we’re setting a good example.”

–With files from CTV’s Josh Pringle and Tyler Fleming. 

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