Councillor's Message

2024 Budget Direction 

At the August 13 Council meeting, Council passed the 2024 City of Ottawa Budget Direction. For the sake of transparency with the residents of Ward 9, I want my constituents to know that I was one of the eight councillors who did not support this budget direction.  

For those of you unfamiliar with a budget direction, it is essentially a set of guidelines provided to city staff to “direct” them as they prepare their departmental budgets. We provide the marching orders, and they come back with draft budgets based on those instructions. Council then debates each departmental budget before approving the global budget.  

Although the budget direction contains many specific instructions, the primary direction pertains to property tax increases. In the 2024 budget direction, that property tax increase is to be no more than 2.5%. This is the same increase that was approved for 2023, and it’s also the figure that the Mayor promised during his election campaign, when he committed to increases of no more than 2.5% for both 2023 and 2024. Since property taxes form the greatest element of our revenues, each department is then instructed to base their individual budget increases on this 2.5% growth in revenue.  

I have three fundamental concerns, which led to my vote:  

  • The process whereby we pre-determine an arbitrary rate of increase (in this case 2.5%), as it doesn’t allow staff to present us with budgets based on what they truly need;  
  • The process whereby we provide this instruction across the board to all departments, rather than a more strategic, needs-based allocation; 
  • The simple fact that a 2.5% increase is insufficient to meet our needs.  

It is disheartening when residents communicate to me about their needs, whether for better road infrastructure, or better transit, or greater response from By-Law, or increased facility maintenance, or more speed cushions and traffic safety measures, when I know that the answer is almost always that we don’t have enough resources. 

And even though we’re currently undergoing an extensive service review process which will produce significant savings, we have not yet seen the projected savings, and those savings will likely not be enough to make up for what’s required.  

Inflation continues to hurt us. Because even if this year’s projected rate of 3.3% inflation is less than last year’s inflation rate of 6.8%, the 2024 increase is still calculated on top of last year’s increase. So it’s a 3.3% increase of inflation compounded on top of prices already inflated 6.8% from last year. And so, when we increase revenues by only 2.5% each year, where inflation rises higher than our revenues do, then the gap between revenues and expenses will continue to widen year after year.  

I know that many families are struggling, including my own. My family just renegotiated our own mortgage this summer, and so our monthly budget just got stretched. My weekly grocery bill continues to climb, just as yours does. I empathize with the pressures that property taxpayers are facing. Renters will face the same pressures.  

But lost or diminished city services and programs will affect all of us. And what about the residents of Ottawa whose needs are far greater than mine? Food banks are seeing the demand for their services spike, but I can’t foresee them getting an increase in municipal funding.  

To anyone who will listen, I would like to illustrate the relatively minor difference between a 2.5% property tax increase and a 3.5% increase. Here’s the math:  

  • Let’s say you paid $7,000 in property taxes in 2023 
  • The proposed 2.5% increase in taxes means your 2024 tax bill will jump to $7,175 
  • A 3.5% increase in taxes would see your 2024 tax bill jump to $7,245 
  • This would be a difference of $70, or difference of $1.35 per week.  

But that $70 (on average) multiplied by 330,000 property taxpayers in the City of Ottawa equals $23,100,000. What could we do, year after year, with that much more additional revenue?     

My other major concern with the 2024 Budget Direction pertains to the direction we’ve provided for OC Transpo to prepare its budget. I’ll describe that in more detail below, as this week Councillors were provided a briefing on the Transit Long Range Financial Plan.  

For these and other reasons, I voted against the 2024 Budget Direction. While I remain open to the budget debate, I am prepared to vote against the 2024 budget, since I’m increasingly concerned about heading further down a path that will be harder to recover from, the longer we are on it.  


Transit Long Range Financial Plan 

Yesterday councillors and media attended a technical briefing on the city’s Transit Long Range Financial Plan. The last time a long-range financial plan had been prepared for the city was back in 2013, and whereas we were not due for a new forecast until 2025, several recent factors precipitated the need to have a new long-range forecast prepared sooner.  

The news wasn’t good. But it can hardly be said that it was surprising. Last year’s transit budget was “balanced” on the anticipation of $39M in additional funding from the Province that never came, plus over $40M in additional cuts. I voted against that budget.   

In starting off the briefing, Mayor Sutcliffe said that OC Transpo is facing a “worsening financial situation” that was worse than what he had imagined when he decided to run for Mayor. While several developments over the past year have increased our system’s financial stresses, I would like to believe that everyone who ran in the 2022 municipal election did so with a sober understanding that the financial situation at OC Transpo was quite dire.  

The briefing was for information only, and so no decisions were made. But the information we received was significant:  

  • OC Transpo is projecting $6.6 billion in budgetary pressures over the next 25 years, due primarily to decreasing ridership; 
  • The future of LRT Stage 3 is possibly at risk; 
  • The city will make its case to the federal and provincial governments that Ottawa faces unique circumstances that merit greater investment from upper levels of government. 

As your councillor, I am very concerned with the way in which we are proposing solutions to our transit issues. Rather than sounding the alarm for the absolute necessity of transit, rather than speaking about transit as if it were an essential public service, it feels as if we’re looking at transit like an underperforming department that needs to undergo “efficiencies”. But it’s the principles of austerity and mismanagement that got us to where we are currently, and I fail to see how several of the ideas being discussed recently will lead us to where we need to be.  


My Budget Priorities Meeting with the Mayor 

Last week, each councillor got to sit down with Mayor Sutcliffe and senior staff to discuss our own budget priorities, whether for the ward or the city as a whole. I very much appreciate the Mayor’s approach to these conversations with councillors, and ours was a very productive conversation. I wanted to relay the several items I raised during the brief meeting.  

Generally, my overall budget priorities are very closely aligned with what the City has identified in its Strategic Plan / Term of Council PrioritiesThe four priorities look to create an Ottawa that:  

  •  Has affordable housing and is more liveable for all  
  •  Is more connected with reliable, safe and accessible mobility options 
  • Is green and resilient  
  • Has a diversified and prosperous economy

The specific priorities that I raised with the Mayor include:   

  • Ensuring that a Secondary Plan for Merivale Road is launched in 2024. This is an essential step in my long-term plan of re-vitalizing Merivale into the mixed commercial/residential “heart of Nepean”. 
  • I stressed the importance of engaging outside expertise so that the City of Ottawa can do some revenue modelling and cost of service analyses to compare not only the revenues generated by each ward, but the relative costs of servicing each of the city’s wards. My goal is that if we can properly show both sides of the ledger, it will help us make properly informed policy decisions. For more information on the kind of expertise I’m seeking to consult with, feel free to check out Urban3. 
  • I asked for funding to commission a feasibility study for the design concept of a new community centre in the southern parts of Ward 9. Currently, the neighbourhoods south of Hunt Club (including Merivale Gardens, Country Place, and The Glens) represent a large area of residents without a single local community centre.  
  • I asked for two new placements for Automated Speed Enforcement (ASE) cameras, specifically along Knoxdale Road, as well as on Merivale Road near St. Monica’s School. These two sites experience some of the worst speeding in Ward 9, but they fail to meet the established criteria for ASE placement, based on reasoning that I’m not altogether in agreement with.  
  • I asked that the City be willing to consider pilot projects that are meant to support new initiatives focused on combating climate change, finding cost-efficiencies, and economic revitalization. These projects include the naturalization of medians and rights of way, as well as the pedestrianization of commercial strips.  
  • Many residents have been complaining about the prolonged timeline for the renewal of the multi-use pathway along Greenbank between Fallowfield and West Hunt Club. Although the design phase of this project has been delayed to 2024, I asked for assurance that one phase’s delay doesn’t significantly delay the project’s completion.  
  • Nelson House is a women’s shelter based in Ward 9, but which services the entire city. This shelter supports the needs of women and children fleeing domestic abuse. Currently, the long-term funding of their childcare service is under threat of being eliminated, and I’m urging the City to re-commit to funding this need.  
  • The Care Centre is an emergency food bank that is currently expanding its base of operations to serve a greater demand for services. But they’re facing expensive development charges in to get their building permit. I’ve asked the City to consider waiving the requirement for food banks to pay development charges in these situations. 


Investigation of Ottawa’s Greenbelt Land Swap 

At last week’s Council meeting, Councillor Shawn Menard brought forth a Notice of Motion for an item that we will debate at the next Council meeting, and one that I’m sure will garner much attention. Less than a month after provincial Housing Minister Steve Clark resigned because of investigations into the Greenbelt land swap in Toronto, Councillor Menard wants to province’s auditor general to look into a similar controversial land decision that former Minister Clark made here in Ottawa. For more info on the Menard motion and surrounding issues please refer to this CBC News article 

The issue stems from a controversial decision made by former Minister Clark in 2022 to expand Ottawa’s urban boundary by 654 hectares, overriding a previous municipal decision to limit costly urban sprawl. There had also been concern that some of the lands re-approved for development by former Minister Clark belonged to “developer-connected donors to the Progressive Conservative Party, who had bought some of these east-end farmlands shortly before Clark’s decision.  

When you consider that the possible links between these land use decisions and the ones under investigation elsewhere in the province, I feel even more compelled to request an investigation into what happened in Ottawa.  

I look forward to the debate of this matter at Council, but I am inclined to support the motion that has been brought to us. If this motion is defeated – and it quite possibly will be defeated – then I will consider submitting the request to the Ontario Auditor General as a request from a group of individual councillors. 

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