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 Priorities. The 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.
Use your Green Bin: new educational video
A key part of the City of Ottawa’s waste management strategy is to dramatically increase the amount of organic waste we divert from landfill. The proper use of our Green Bins are also an effective tool in managing pests, including rats and other rodents. The city just released a new educational video on using your green bin, and we encourage residents to learn more at www.ottawa.ca/greenbin
Hunt Club Road and Riverside Drive intersection modifications
The City of Ottawa has initiated the preliminary design process for modifications to the intersection of Hunt Club Road and Riverside Drive. Although this location does not fall directly within Ward 9, this intersection is currently one of the highest collision intersections in the City, and one which many residents of Knoxdale Merivale use regularly. The project is intended to improve safety conditions and levels of service for all users. Intersection capacity, efficiency and safety for all modes will be a design priority.
The proposal includes the northbound approach to the intersection along Riverside Drive, as well as the northbound and southbound right-turn channels on Riverside Drive, to be reconstructed, together with cycling improvements. The objective is to improve intersection operations and safety for all users.
Greenbank and Baseline intersection modifications
Last week a small group of councillors were invited to a briefing on the current planning process for Baseline Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), which is the proposal for a re-designed Baseline that would see dedicated bus lanes running from Bayshore in the West to Heron Road in the East. While most of this project will not advance until we receive funding commitments from upper levels of government, the City of Ottawa has already committed $22M in funding towards Phase 1 of this mega-project, which would see the a re-designed intersection at Baseline and Greenbank, with this work slated for 2024/25.
Conover Street Accelerated Neighbourhood Traffic Calming Study
The City of Ottawa is proposing permanent traffic calming measures on Conover Street. The purpose of this project is to address concerns raised by residents by reducing the negative effects of vehicular speeding on this roadway. The City is asking for your feedback through an online survey. Your feedback is greatly appreciated and will help to determine overall comfort levels within the community for the proposed plan. The survey closes on September 29th, 2023. More information about the project, including a link to the survey can be found at Ottawa.ca/ConoverStreet.
2023 Commuter Attitude Survey
The City of Ottawa and its partner agencies are planning to conduct a telephone survey in September-October 2023. During the survey, information on residents’ travel attitudes and perspectives will be collected from approximately 3500 randomly selected individuals, complementing the results from the 2022 Origin-Destination (OD) Survey.
The survey aims to achieve a representative sample of responses throughout the National Capital Region, including commuters within the urban and rural areas who make regular trips for work, school, or volunteer purposes.
The Commuter Attitude Survey is completely voluntary and will be conducted through confidential phone interviews. The information collected will be used to help understand current mobility patterns and the factors that influence people’s travel choices. The survey also includes questions related to hybrid work to better understand how commuting patterns are evolving. The results will be used to help plan the region’s walking, cycling, transit, and road networks and inform investment priorities.
Response targets have been set for different areas of the region to ensure a broad representation of respondents. Response rates will be carefully monitored, and the calling strategy will be adjusted as the survey progresses to ensure the targets are met.
R.A. Malatest and Associates Ltd. has been retained to carry out the survey on behalf of the TRANS Committee
If you have any questions, please contact Meredith Berriman, Strategic Programs & Project Officer (BSS) [email protected]
Over the past two weeks the Councillor and our team were fortunate to attend community events all across Ward 9, including corn roasts in Manordale, Tanglewood and Merivale Gardens, community days in Trend Arlington and The Glens, block parties in Sheahan Estates and General Burns, and the annual general meeting of the Merivale Gardens Community Association. (I’m attending the Fisher Heights Community Association AGM soon, as well.)
And the Councillor was also proud to perform live music with his band The Suburban Legends at his home neighbourhood event in Trend Arlington!
These have all been fantastic opportunities to meet with residents face-to-face, in their communities. It’s great to build those one-on-one relationships, but it’s also valuable to hear residents raise questions about local issues.
And thanks to our recent investment in a branded Ward 9 pop-up tent along with a mobile router, we’re able to set up a “mini office” wherever we go. We plan on using this mobile office capacity not only for all future outdoor events, but as a means of conducting a wide array of onsite engagement opportunities. We hope to bring our colourful tent to your neighbourhood soon!
PUBLIC HEALTH & SAFETY
With the return to school and the resumption of fall work and social schedules, now is a good time to refresh on some of the basics around keep you and your family healthy. Respiratory viruses, including COVID and RSV, tend to be more prevalent in the fall. Ottawa Wastewater measurements continue to show elevated COVID levels in the community. So here is what to do if you or a family member are showing signs of a respiratory infection:
- Stay home until you are fever-free (without using fever-reducing medication AND your symptoms have been improving for 24 hours (48 hours for vomiting/diarrhea).
- If you can’t stay home: wear a well-fitting mask and avoid non-essential mask-less activities for at least 10 days from when symptoms started.
- Don’t visit those at high-risk of severe illness including those in long-term care, retirement homes or in hospital.
And of course, make sure your vaccinations are up-to-date. Vaccines are an important line of defense against serious illness.
Back to School — Vaccinations
Vaccines are one of the greatest public health accomplishments of the 20th century. Vaccines have saved countless lives and in fact, save an estimated four million lives globally each year!
As children and youth head back to school this fall, it is an important time to ensure they are up to date on their routine vaccinations.
What is Ottawa Public Health asking parents to do?
- Review your child’s vaccine record to see if they are missing any vaccines given during childhood or adolescence.
- Make sure to report your child’s vaccine to Ottawa Public Health. Parents are responsible for reporting their child’s vaccines; health care providers do not do this for you.
Visit your health care provider to catch up on vaccines you need.
Don’t have a regular health care provider or are having trouble seeing one?
Book an appointment on the Kids Come First website to review their child’s vaccine record or receive vaccines.
Alternatively, Ottawa Public Health is offering routine vaccines through its Neighbourhood Health and Wellness Hubs, on a walk-in basis. Parents can drop into one of the locations to review their child’s vaccine record and/or receive vaccines.
Emerald Plaza Neighbourhood Wellness Hub
Respiratory Illness Resources
PLANNING & DEVELOPMENT
New Zoning By-law September Open Houses
We want to hear from you about the future of growth and development in Ottawa! We would like to invite you to a series of engagement events for the new zoning by-law project. This will be an opportunity to learn, provide your input, and be part of building our city's future together.
During the open house, we will discuss the fundamental aspects of planning and development in Ottawa, the recently approved new Official Plan, and provide an overview of project timelines.
- September 20 - City Hall (Jean Pigott Place): 5:30 PM – 7:30 PM
- September 23 - Ray Friel Recreation Complex: 2:30 PM to 5:00 PM
Virtual Open House: Details Coming Soon
You can sign-up for updates on the new Zoning By-law and find more details on the open houses on the New Zoning By-law project engagement page.
Development & The Central Experimental Farm
Over the last few months, our office has been meeting with a wide range of stakeholders to discuss development around the Central Experimental Farm (CEF). As we have discussed many times before, the city is growing rapidly and there is increasing pressure to drive good, sensible development in and around the inner urban areas of the city—including around the farm. With two development applications already in the system and more likely to come, it’s well-past time we had a conversation about the future of the the CEF. I believe the farm is an important part of the city and many Ottawans, no doubt, agree with me. It is also an important centre for scientific research and any changes that will affect its future need approached with caution. I will continue to advocate for solutions that address both the city’s housing needs but also take into consideration the farm’s unique and important role in our community. Stay tuned for more on this in the weeks ahead.
COMMUNITY NEWS & EVENTS
Nepean Horticultural Society
Seniors Event: September 21
Arlington Woods Free Methodist Church (225 McClellan Road) is hosting the next installment in their JOY (Just Older Youth) Series, with a musical performance by vocalist Luzia Veiga, to take place on September 21st at 1:00pm.
Synapcity's Youth Engagement Session
Coming up this September, join Synapcity for one of their workshop sessions on Youth Engagement in Ottawa. Happening on Tuesday September 26th starting at 530pm at the Carleton Dominion-Chalmers Centre in downtown Ottawa. This event will feature presentations from several organizations working in the youth space such as Youth Ottawa, Youth Action Now, Youth 4 Youth Canada, CHEO Youth Net, Innostation and more. Following the presentations, attendees will break out into smaller groups to discuss facets of youth engagement. Food and refreshments will be served. Don’t miss this important session. Find more information and register here.