During the 2018 election, Mayor Jim Watson promised taxpayers that he would increase property taxes by 3% instead of the past practice of 2% with the goal of eliminating the annual $50 million infrastructure renewal spending gap. The additional 1% increase raises roughly $10 million per year, which the majority would be used exclusively for infrastructure repairs like roads and bridges.
It’s now 2019 and Council is planning for the 2020 budget. Marian Simulik, Treasurer for the City of Ottawa, presented City Staff’s plan to draft the next budget on September 10th, at the powerful Finance and Economic Committee chaired by the mayor himself. In the draft report, property taxes will still increase by 3%, but the extra money earmarked for infrastructure renewal will now be spent on Transit instead of infrastructure repairs. This is due to the cancellation of the doubling of the provincial gas taxes and a lack of funding for transit projects. For residents who do not have access to, or chose not to use transit, this update could be seen as a “bait and switch”.
To fulfill the 2018 election promise of more money being spent to repair Ottawa’s infrastructure, Council will use a one-time transfer of $57 million from the Federal Gas Tax Fund over the next three years instead of the $10 million raised through the extra 1% property tax increase.
Ultimately, Council will spend more money between now and the 2022 election to fix Ottawa’s infrastructure. However, the overall funding deficit will take eight years to eliminate instead of the promised five. Not good news if you expected the City to live up to its promise of fixing our public assets promptly.
Other recommendations from City staff include a 3% increase in drinking water rates, a wastewater rate increase of 4% and a stormwater rate increase of 12%, which will impact rural residents the most.
The City-Wide garbage levy is estimated to increase by $10 this year and another $10 in 2021.
For those that do use public transit, the estimated transit fare increase is 2.5 percent in addition to the proposed 6.4% transit levy increase. The transit levy is paid directly by taxpayers on their property taxes.
Notably absent from the discussion was the idea of Council reviewing current spending to find savings inside the budget before going back to the taxpayer for more. This is long overdue in the opinion of many taxpayers.
Councillor led budget consultations are due to begin this fall. Take the time to share your opinion with the City or your local Councillor. After all, we are the ones stuck paying the bill.