Ottawa councillors' infrastructure rebellion seems doomed — but it's a noble failure

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David Reevely, Ottawa Citizen

Every year, Mayor Jim Watson dares city councillors to find a way to mess with his budget. This year, a record eight councillors are taking him up on it, proposing a small one-time infrastructure levy to fix crumbling roads and maybe replace a pipe or two.

Unless something truly extraordinary happens in Wednesday’s city council meeting, they will fail. Ten councillors are firmly against them, two are openly very skeptical, and 12 votes is the ballgame.

But that eight councillors signed up for a rebellion is something.

Council’s downtown lefties, whose idea of what the city government should do differs from the mayor’s, took a while but eventually realized they had that in common. Gloucester-Southgate’s Diane Deans has been at the pointy end of Watson’s barbs a lot and has had it. College’s Rick Chiarelli and Kanata North’s Marianne Wilkinson are suburban infrastructure fiends, so they’re in, too.

Other suburban and rural councillors have weighed their interest in infrastructure against their interest in keeping taxes down, plunked Watson’s disapproval on the scale as well, and made their decisions.

Ottawa has a long history of underspending on infrastructure. A year ago, the city bureaucracy told councillors we need to spend about $195 million a year just to maintain the roads and pipes and buildings and bridges we already have, but we actually spend about $125 million.

You can see it in the potholed roads, the cracked water mains, the concrete sidewalks patched and re-patched with asphalt (“Watson warts,” maybe?), the pools that close for annual scrubbing but then stay closed for months because the walls are full of mould. We do not spend enough on this stuff and the results are obvious. Watson acknowledged this in his budget speech and said there’d be more pothole-filling and sidewalk-fixing in 2018.

Proposed infrastructure levy on a bumpy road to the budget vote

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Jon Willing, Ottawa Citizen

The infrastructure levy proposed by eight councillors ahead of Wednesday’s 2018 budget vote has turned up the volume on the grumbling over the mayor’s two per cent tax promise.

It’s safe to expect a pile-on by councillors who oppose adding another 0.5 per cent to the already-planned two per cent property tax increase. Many have been on social media and radio programs dumping on the infrastructure tax proposal, even accusing some of the backers of political grandstanding before the next municipal election in October 2018.

That’s what Coun. George Darouze wrote in a social media post on Monday, taking aim specifically at experienced councillors who have signed onto the infrastructure tax proposal.

“They should know better than to play such obvious political games,” Darouze wrote.

Other councillors have been even more cutting.

Coun. Jody Mitic wrote on Twitter that taxpayers in his ward won’t pay for “bully tactics.”

On 1310 News last Friday, Coun. Allan Hubley took aim squarely at Coun. Diane Deans in an interview about the proposed infrastructure tax, steering the conversation to a recent audit that revealed questionable subsidy distributions in the child care program and pointing out that Deans chairs the committee that oversees child care.

Deans fired back at Hubley on social media, dismissing him as one of “the mayor’s cronies.”

The councillors who back the infrastructure tax — David Chernushenko, Rick Chiarelli, Mathieu Fleury, Jeff Leiper, Catherine McKenney, Tobi Nussbaum, Marianne Wilkinson and Deans — say it would only cost urban landowners an extra $1 each month.

The extra $8 million raised could pay for repairs to roads, parks and buildings, they argue.

City councillors push for additional 0.5% tax hike to boost infrastructure spending

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Motion runs counter to Mayor Jim Watson’s pledge to cap increases to 2%

Ottawa Business Journal

Arguing the city urgently needs more cash to repair crumbling infrastructure such as roads and recreation facilities, eight Ottawa city councillors have banded together to push for a further 0.5 per cent hike in next year’s tax bill.

Councillors Jeff Leiper, Diane Deans, Marianne Wilkinson, Rick Chiarelli, Mathieu Fleury, Tobi Nussbaum, Catherine McKenney and David Chernushenko are backing the proposal. They say the one-time infrastructure levy translates to a $12 increase in the average taxpayer’s bill and is expected to raise about $8 million.

“We heard loud and clear throughout the budget process that residents want us to invest more in our infrastructure,” Ms. Deans said in a statement. She said the increase will cost taxpayers about a dollar a month, or “less than a cup of coffee or a chocolate bar.”

Extra 0.5% to address critical municipal needs

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The 2% residential tax increase proposed in the City of Ottawa's 2018 draft budget is simply not enough to address critical municipal needs identified by residents during budget consultations as necessary for a balanced, affordable and progressive budget approach consistent with sound financial management.

That's why I, along with Councillors Jeff Leiper, Catherine McKenney, Diane Deans, Mathieu Fleury, Marianne Wilkinson, Tobi Nussbaum and Rick Chiarelli, are supporting a motion to introduce a one-time, 0.5% infrastructure levy.

Public infrastructure is the foundation on which our communities are built, and maintaining assets such as roads, sidewalks, recreation facilities and parks in a state of good repair is essential to preserving a good quality of life and to the overall health and well-being of our city. Failing to keep these assets in a good state of repair costs taxpayers more in the long-term.

Adding a dedicated levy of 0.5% to the citywide property tax bill, with all revenues directed towards tax-supported capital asset renewal, would cost the average urban homeowner $1 per month and allow us to make important strategic investments in our infrastructure, advance needed repairs, and save money on future repair costs.

Click HERE to download a PDF of the motion, which will be brought before council on Dec. 13.

David Chernushenko
Councillor for Capital Ward

Cycle track planned for Heron Road will connect future transit projects

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Alexandra Mazur, Ottawa Community News

Public consultation began on Nov. 27 for the proposal of a new stretch of separated cycling tracks on Heron Road, between Bank Street and Data Centre Road.

It’s early days for the project, but it was welcomed by many of the people who showed up that evening as a happy addition to Ottawa’s sometimes stuttered cycling network.

The proposed project will allow for unidirectional raised cycle tracks outside the curbs on either side of Heron Road and will finish at the west end of the project in multi-use pathways that will enable connections with transit stops.

The city says six existing bus bays will be taken out to provide more space for cyclists and pedestrians, and that some private property will be expropriated for the project.

Many at the public consultation were optimistic about the proposed addition, mostly because Heron Road is seen by many cyclists as a hazardous road to travel.

“There’s a lot of streets, arterials like Heron that are pretty darn scary to cycle on, and almost as scary for drivers to encounter cyclists,” said Capital Coun. David Chernushenko, who attended the public consultations.

Nathan Shyminsky lives near the Jim Durell Recreation Centre, where the public consultation was being held. He said although he bikes to work, at Heron Road and Riverside Drive, he tries his best to avoid the busy stretch where the new paths might one day be.

“Maybe I’m not the bravest cyclist, but I think a lot of people who would bike on Heron aren’t,” said Shyminsky, who added that he also avoids driving on Heron Road due to the volume and pace of traffic.