The purpose of this newsletter is to share my thoughts on Ottawa's draft budget for next year, and to remind you of the final budget consultation scheduled for tomorrow at City Hall. For details about the proposed budget, please visit ottawa.ca/budget2013.
Councillor for Capital Ward
Highlights from Draft Budget 2013
The City of Ottawa’s draft budget for 2013 in many ways stays the course, with no major new citywide initiatives or capital spending items. However, there is a significant allocation to the Ottawa On the Move infrastructure projects announced last year, covering road reconstruction, sewer and water pipe replacement, and various bridge, path and sidewalk repair and construction projects.
On the whole, transportation and water/sewer projects will eat up the biggest chunk of our municipal tax dollars. I cannot argue with that, considering the size of the city and the importance of keeping up with infrastructure maintenance and repair. But the disproportionate amount highlights the shortsightedness of previous budgets that tried to adhere to the populist but ultimately misguided and unrealistic “zero means zero” mantra. Zero does not mean zero. Zero means passing necessary costs to future budgets and to future generations. Council has a responsibility to tell Ottawa taxpayers the truth about what it costs to build, maintain and replace infrastructure, and to remind people that delayed maintenance costs us much more in repairs and replacements down the road.
From this perspective, I have no qualms about supporting the tax and rate increases required to maintain and replace what we have. But I do have qualms with the City's eagerness to expand roads, water service and sewers when we cannot afford to maintain what we already have. Contrary to suburban myth, development charges do not cover all of these costs. Nor do they cover the maintenance, snow clearing and other significant ongoing expenses that we lock ourselves into when we allow our city to keep growing outward, when intelligent intensification makes more sense from every vantage point.
Which brings me to Capital Ward’s specific needs from any year’s budget. We choose to live here because these neighbourhoods offer reasonable, and sometimes very good, access to services and facilities, even though we know our choice comes with high taxes. We are even, on the whole, in favour of intensification both as an antidote to expensive sprawl and as a potential source of greater population density, which should in theory increase the City’s investment in local community centres, schools, parks, sidewalks and bike paths, to name just some possible benefits.
However, it’s infuriating when we keep our side of the bargain but don’t believe the City is holding up its side. Namely, when we see new towers and monster infill proliferating in the urban core, while the City allows sprawling box store shopping centres and other low-rise commercial developments that make incredibly inefficient use of land wherever it is. Or when the ever-increasing car traffic passing through our communities is not being offset by better public transit. Or when the City fails to provide community benefits derived from development charges, or more greenspaces to meet the needs of the growing population.
That's why it's my goal to fight for a fair share of investment in our community’s needs. I am of course competing with 22 other councillors whose wards have their own needs and who may feel they are not getting their fair share. That means I will never get everything for which I ask and for which you have asked me. But there are always some victories, even if you have to look hard in some years.
Draft Budget 2013 contains some specific capital spending for Capital Ward, almost entirely in the area of transportation. These items include:
- $2 million for the detailed design of a footbridge over the Rideau Canal at Fifth Ave. and Clegg St., which will provide a key pedestrian and cycling link between the Glebe and Old Ottawa East.
- $1 million for the development and design of a new parking garage at 170 Second Avenue, current site of the City parking lot behind the Glebe Metro. The new parking facility is meant to address the loss of parking at Lansdowne, as well as the redevelopment project’s expected impact on existing Bank Street businesses and local residents.
- $2.5 million under the Cycling Facilities Program for detailed design and construction of a missing link in the Sawmill Creek Pathway adjacent to the Airport Parkway at the south end of Capital Ward. This is considered an essential component of Ottawa’s cycling network.
- $265,000 under the Pedestrian Facilities Program to build a complete sidewalk along Brookfield Rd. from Clover St. to Traverse Dr. in Heron Park, connecting with the pathway that continues east to Bank St.
- Updated traffic control signals at Bank St. and Erie Ave., adjacent to Heron Park.
- Installation of new underground electric cables to repair existing street light cable faults on Bullock Ave., Southern Dr. and Avenue Rd. in Old Ottawa East and Old Ottawa South.
- Traffic cameras at the intersection of Main St. and Hawthorne Ave. in Old Ottawa East.
- New pedestrian countdown signals at Percy St. and Chamberlain Ave. in the Glebe.
Draft Budget 2013 not only meets Council’s commitment to keep the annual tax increase below 2.5%, but actually brings it down to 2.09%. While I voted for the four-year, 2.5% cap, my goal was not to nibble it down more and more each year. Why not? One reason is that this strategy is likely to exacerbate our existing problems with inadequate maintenance and deferred costs. But I have another reason: the least privileged, least vocal, least connected and least resilient people whose lives are most affected by the service cuts that necessarily accompany unrealistically low tax increases.
I know that paying more taxes is never popular, but the job of councillor is not and should not be a popularity contest. Our job is first and foremost to build and maintain a city that works, that is safe, that is attractive to live in and visit, and that — maybe more than anything — ensures equality of access and meets the basic needs of all its citizens. To reduce everything to a cost-benefit test is penny-wise but pound-foolish. Ottawa can afford to be a city that leaves no one behind, if only we keep our priorities straight.
Budget 2013: Public Consultation
Thursday, 1 November, 4 to 6 p.m.
City Hall (Andrew Haydon Hall), 110 Laurier Ave. W.
The City of Ottawa is hosting its final public consultation on Budget 2013 on Nov. 1 at City Hall. For more information, visit ottawa.ca/budget2013.
There will also be bilingual multi-ward budget consultations in the East, West and South parts of Ottawa. For details about these meetings, visit ottawa.ca/budget2013.