The usual suspects turned out for the city’s final round of budget consultations at the Mlacak Centre in Kanata on Wednesday, Nov. 7.
But there weren’t that many of them.
Half the seats in the meeting hall were empty, with most of the audience made up of city staff, lobbyists and members of special interest groups.
“That’s been about the same in other public meetings,” Mayor Jim Watson said after the evening’s question-and-answer session wrapped up.
“Generally, when people feel comfortable and the budget is balanced and you don’t see deep cuts or big spending, you don’t get as many people out,” he said. “I think it’s a reflection of the fact that we’ve worked hard to come forward with a budget that is generally acceptable, because it’s the lowest tax rate in six years and we haven’t gone through any slashing and burning of any vital public service programs.”
Fewer than 20 residents attended the west-end budget meeting, the fourth of four consultations held across the city to discuss Ottawa’s draft budget for 2013.
The meeting was attended by senior staff including city manager Kent Kirkpatrick, as well as councillors Allan Hubley, Marianne Wilkinson, Mark Taylor, Eli El-Chantiry, Scott Moffatt and Rick Chiarelli.
The evening began with a presentation by Watson and city treasurer Marian Simulik about the draft budget, which is scheduled to go to council for a vote on Nov. 28.
The suggested 2.09 per cent tax increase for the municipal tax rate is the lowest in six years and translates to a $67 hike on the average urban homeowner’s tax bill. For rural residents, the increase is 1.98 per cent, or $50 on an average rural homeowner’s bill.
“This is, as the mayor mentioned, the lowest tax-supported budget that we’ve put in front of council in some time,” she said.
It also falls below the mark set by council to keep all tax increases below 2.5 per cent.
Simulik said the proposed tax increase does not include consideration of this year’s Municipality Property Assessment Corporation’s reassessment of property values across the province.
The city will deliver a tax policy report in April, which will adjust how much residents will pay next year.
The draft budget also calls for a transit fee increase of 2.5 per cent, $3.5-million in savings through staff reductions and an $11 cut to urban residents’ garbage fee, a result of the city’s new biweekly collection system.
The city has also reduced the number of its consultants by half and frozen recreation fees.
Ivan Levac, a director of the National Capital Heavy Construction Association, asked if council would introduce a one per cent capital tax levy and increase this year’s tax rate to 2.5 per cent, using the additional money for road repair and infrastructure renewal.
Watson said the city is spending $340 million over the next three years on infrastructure through its Ottawa on the Move program – on top of the city’s base infrastructure budget.
The money will pay for upgrades to roads, sewers, sidewalks, culverts and cycling facilities.
“All of this work has been delayed for a long period of time and we see from time to time infrastructure failing and as a result we’re trying to play a little bit of catch up.”
The recent sinkhole on highway 174 in Orléans shows how crucial it is to maintain infrastructure, said Watson.
But the mayor refused to support a levy because he said it failed to keep the pressure on politicians to keep costs under control.
“It’s not a levy, it’s a tax – it’s not an optional thing.”
The previous city council – led by former mayor Larry O’Brien – produced budgets with large tax hikes because it tacked items onto its wish list without making corresponding cuts, said Watson.
“Politicians are not good at taking money out of a budget,” he said.
The city is waiting for the federal government’s next round of federal infrastructure funding, said Kanata North Coun. Marianne Wilkinson.
“This is a national problem,” she said. “It’s not a City of Ottawa problem.”
Watson said the city must balance the need for infrastructure renewal in the older parts of the city with the need for expansion of roads, fire stations, libraries and other infrastructure in growth areas.
Most of the other comments at the consultation either congratulated city council on suggested spending levels in the 2013 budget or offered a few helpful tweaks or suggestions.
Gary Sealey, president of the Kanata Beaverbrook Community Association, suggested the city provide an online list of expenditures ward by ward.
Stittsville businessman Phil Sweetnam said the city could save money by using natural gas to power some vehicles and by making more use of LED lights.
Some of the highlights of the budget for the west district are:
- $975,000 to fight the emerald ash borer problem.
- New and expanded parks including Hidden Lakes Park, Romina Park and a new park in the village of Carp.
- Road resurfacing on Bayshore Drive (between Richmond Road and Woodridge Crescent); Woodroofe Avenue (between Richmond and Sir John A. Macdonald Parkway), Kilmaurs Side Road (between Woodkilton and Dunrobin roads); Meadowlands Drive (between Woodroofe and Merivale Road.)
- Sidewalk renewal on McKitrick Drive and Fisher Avenue.
- Work on implementing the West End Flood Investigation Action Plan continues with $20 million in infrastructure improvements put in place in 2013 – flowing from the 2012 budget.
- Money for the Earl Grey and Kanata Centrum underpass underneath Terry Fox Drive and a new grade separated section between the Terry Fox Transitway Station in the east and Didsbury Road in the west.
- Money for the design plan of the March Road park-and-ride.
- $1 million for the Kizell Pond Pathway, a new trail system to be built north of the Beaver Pond.
- Renewal of sections of the Ottawa-Carleton Trail, from Ashton Station to Fitzgerald Road.
- Opening of the Richcraft Recreation Complex in 2013.
- Introduction of an Older Adult Portal, providing online service for seniors.