Council likes 2% tax cap but faces transit fare challenge

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By Jon Willing, Ottawa Sun

Council on Wednesday unanimously accepted Mayor Jim Watson's direction to cap the property tax hike at 2% in 2015.

But council could have some work to do making sure transit fares don't increase beyond that as OC Transpo tries to improve its ridership and depend less on tax money for operations.

If transit requires more money than what a 2% tax increase can offer, there's only one other source of revenue to provide the difference: Riders.

"Well, I'm glad I'm not that transit chair," Gloucester-Southgate Coun. Diane Deans quipped after asking the treasurer questions about transit implications during a council meeting.

And that was shortly after Cumberland Coun. Stephen Blais was confirmed as the new chairman of the transit commission, succeeding Deans.

Staff are still working on the draft 2015 budget, which will be tabled Feb. 4.

The treasury isn't worried much about fuel prices since the city hedges about 75% of its consumption for the year. For 2015, that volume is hedged at about $1.04.

Staff are more concerned about salary increases awarded through arbitration. The city is currently in arbitration with its largest union, CUPE Local 503.

City manager Kent Kirkpatrick told council he doesn't intend to add more full-time equivalent positions to the municipal public service next year.

Some councillors continued to voice concern about being locked into a draft budget without move to manoeuvre.

River Coun. Riley Brockington warned against "handcuffing" council's ability to address critical needs. Capital Coun. David Chernushenko suggested he won't be afraid to recommend a higher tax increase if there are pressing social demands.

"Our job is to find that balance," Watson said. "Keep the taxes affordable but provide good basic public services at the same time."

Introducing Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson's 'cabinet'

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Committee members were names at city hall in Ottawa Tuesday Dec 9 2014. Ottawa city councillor David Chernushenko during Tuesday's meeting. Tony Caldwell/Ottawa Sun/QMI Agency

Jon Willing, Ottawa Sun

Mayor Jim Watson has hand-picked councillors to join his inner-circle for the four-year term.

"I've always said it's a bit like a Rubik's Cube. You think you have something as a right fit and you realize something else is missing," Watson said after a nomination committee meeting Tuesday.

No rookie councillor is getting the nod to chair a major committee or board. Watson is preferring to stick with the councillors he has built a rapport with over the past four years.

There are, however, several newbies selected for less influential vice-chair roles on committees.

All appointments are subject to council's ratification Wednesday.

Veteran councillors get top spots at city hall committees for next 4 years

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Stephanie Kinsella, CFRA

Just which elected officials will run which committees for the next four years at Ottawa City Hall is taking shape and veterans are getting the vast majority of the top spots.

Diane Deans is moving back to the Community and Protective Services committee, a position she held several years ago before taking the transit commission reins. She will oversee a major review of city by-laws, deal with taxi issues and is adopting a less combative stance on Uber and ride sharing programs compared to Mayor Jim Watson and her predecessor Mark Taylor.

"I'm just not going to close the door on Uber at this point or on any ride sharing program. I think we have to take a look at those issues and I need to understand them better than I do now," she told reporters on Tuesday, adding safety remains a top priority.

Deans snagged the role from Bay ward Councillor Mark Taylor who had it for the last four years. Taylor wanted it again this time around, but didn't get his way. There were a few missteps when he held the position, including when he accepted a $750 donation from the taxi union after he was named chair of the committee that oversees taxi issues (which isn't against the rules, but he conceded could be construed as bad optics).

Glebe to concerts: Come on down — carefully

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Tom Spears, Ottawa Citizen

The Glebe is offering a welcome, if not a noisy one, to Def Leppard and the just-renamed CityFolk festival.

Both will play at the newly renovated Lansdowne Park, it was revealed Tuesday.

Glebe residents have complained in the past about noise from the Central Canada Exhibition, especially concerts at night. This year's Folk Festival at Hog's Back Park also brought noise complaints, some from the Glebe, which is about four kilometres away.

"The idea of concerts taking place at Lansdowne has always been part of the expectation," resident Bob Brocklebank.

"Even when Lansdowne consisted mostly of asphalt, there were concerts there, too," said Brocklebank, who has just finished a term in charge of Lansdowne issues at the Glebe Community Association.

"The problem is to work out a working relationship between the community and the concert organizers so that everybody can get along," he said. That would include concert hours and noise levels.

"We don't expect to be able to hear the hummingbird's wings flapping if you live downtown. You're accustomed to the traffic and noise and air-conditioning units," he said.