Downtown councillors ponder possibilities of steeper tax hike

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About 100 people attended a municipal budget consultation hosted by five inner-city councillors at Ottawa city hall. (Matthew Kupfer/CBC)

Public consultation held to ask whether residents would tolerate an extra 1% tax increase

By Matthew Kupfer, CBC News

City councillors and residents from Ottawa's five central wards spent Tuesday evening exploring the ways in which the city could spend extra tax dollars if the mayor and rest of council ever loosen their grip on the annual tax increase, currently capped at two per cent.

About 100 people attended the meeting at city hall to hear five pitches including improved winter maintenance, long-term arts funding, sustainable funding for new social services organizations, affordable housing and transitioning to cleaner energy.

Urban core councillors host budget consultation
The meeting was hosted by Rideau-Rockcliffe Coun. Tobi Nussbaum, Rideau-Vanier Coun. Mathieu Fleury, Capital Coun. David Chernushenko, Somerset Coun. Catherine McKenney and Kitchissippi Coun. Jeff Leiper.

They asked the crowd to consider paying one per cent more than they currently do in taxes — adding $14 million to city revenue and an expense of $35 per year for the average homeowner.

Green energy, new social enterprises

The most popular pitches were a $4 million capital investment in affordable housing, the renewable energy plan and supporting new social service organizations.

Janice Ashworth, general manager of the Ottawa Renewable Energy Co-op, said the Ottawa Chamber of Commerce is urging council to work on the energy transition.

She sketched out a $1.5 million plan to spend on electric car charging stations, a sustainability audit office, a tower retrofit program to improve energy efficiency and net-metering for solar energy.

"Let's take advantage of this money-making opportunity, let's stop wasting taxpayer dollars literally in smokestacks or in wasted heat from inefficient light bulbs," she said.

Green Bin program's 'yuck factor' still bedevils city hall

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Jon Willing, Ottawa Citizen

The city is trapped in a green bin of confusion, not knowing how to get more people to scrape the guck from their plates into a bucket instead of a trash can.

After being shamed by Waste Watch Ottawa into addressing a ho-hum diversion rate, council’s environment committee on Tuesday held a question-and-answer session with staff about recycling and green bins.

The city is still having trouble helping people conquer their fear of the “yuck factor” in separating gooey organics from dry garbage, according to Kevin Wylie, the general manager of public works and environmental services.

Allowing people to use plastic bags, instead of only paper products, has been billed as one possible solution to increase the usage rate, but the city is still duking it out with Orgaworld over the 20-year green bin contract signed in 2008.

The legal tussle between the city and Orgaworld is over leaf and yard waste, but it’s getting in the way of other potential initiatives, such as using plastic bags.

“It boggles the mind that with an arbitrator ruling that essentially said the city was in the right that we’d be still here years later,” said Coun. David Chernushenko, chair of the environment committee.

“I’ll be blunt. It sucks.”

In 2014, the city’s auditor general exposed the poor planning leading up to the green bin contract. Taxpayers have been shelling out more money than necessary to process residential organics.

About 51 per cent of residents are using green bins for organic waste.

Chernushenko accepts that more people might find it easier to use the green bin if plastic bags were allowed, but he doesn’t believe it’s the only answer to improving usage rates.

NEW TIME: Canal footbridge groundbreaking ceremony

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Friday, October 6, 2 p.m.
Rideau Canal pathway at Fifth Ave.

Join me, Ottawa Centre MP Catherine McKenna, MPP Yasir Naqvi and Mayor Jim Watson for a ceremonial groundbreaking event to mark the official start of construction of the Rideau Canal crossing between Fifth Ave. and Clegg St.

Please note that this event will be held at 2 p.m., not 10:30 a.m. as previously advertised.

The new pedestrian and cycling bridge will provide a safe and convenient link for pedestrians and cyclists travelling between the Glebe and Old Ottawa East / Old Ottawa South.

The work has already started with construction of a paved pathway detour on the west side of the Canal between Third and Fifth Aves. On the east side, Colonel By Dr. will soon be realigned near Clegg, with a pathway detour between Clegg and Herridge Sts. and a signalized crossing at Herridge.

'I would never blind-side my colleagues on anything': Councillors bitter over plan to hike stormwater fee

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Jon Willing, Ottawa Citizen

Projected increases to the newly structured stormwater fee have some rural politicians livid, with one councillor fearing the city duped residents into settling for the so-called rain tax.

Rideau-Goulbourn Coun. Scott Moffatt, who heads council’s rural affairs committee, couldn’t mask his frustration during an environment committee meeting on Tuesday as staff presented their proposed 10-year financial plan for water, wastewater and stormwater infrastructure.

The plan calls for annual increases to the stormwater fee between 10 per cent and 13 per cent through 2027.

The city went through a painful process last year to convince residents who aren’t on municipal water and sewer services that they need to pay a stormwater fee, since only those who received water and sewer bills were actually paying for the city’s stormwater infrastructure program.

Moffatt recoiled at the latest staff plan to hike the stormwater fee by substantial rates starting in 2018.

“It presents as though the stormwater fee will be increased significantly over the next 10 years and I feel that’s not what we said last year,” Moffatt said after the environment committee meeting.

It’s “disingenuous” that the city sold a new stormwater fee to residents in 2016 and then came back in 2017 with a report that recommends expanding the stormwater budget, Moffatt said.

Moffatt seemed equally disheartened that no one at city hall apparently gave him a heads up about the proposed increases, especially since he worked hard during the consultations on the highly controversial stormwater fee and rate review in 2016.

“Why would you leave someone out? I would never do that to my colleagues,” Moffatt said. “I would never blind-side my colleagues on anything.”

Capital Coun. David Chernushenko, the chair of the environment committee, said residents and councillors would have known that future financial plans would impact the stormwater fee.

“I don’t believe residents were at all hoodwinked, misled, lied to. No shell games here,” Chernushenko said. “I know our staff made it very clear, and I made a point of insisting that we make it clear, that what we were talking about during the rate review was how we allocate who pays what portion.”

The amount the city needs to pay for stormwater services is something that would be considered on an annual basis through budgets and a long-range financial plan, Chernushenko said.