The city of Ottawa is proposing a draft operating budget of nearly $ 4 billion as the country’s capital seeks to offset COVID-19’s impact on transit and other important municipal services.
The budget presents an overall focus on maintaining critical services to get rid of the new coronavirus pandemic, with a few targeted investments in areas such as affordable housing and roads.
Mayor Jim Watson said in prepared remarks at Wednesday’s special council meeting that the proposed budget “reflects the economic and social insecurity” of the ongoing pandemic.
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The city council on Wednesday received a draft operating budget of $ 3.94 billion and a capital budget of $ 781 million for 2021.
The budget proposal maintains the ceiling of 3.0 percent on tax increases. As a result of next year’s planned tax increase, the average townhouse owner would pay an additional $ 115 on their property, the average country homeowner would pay an additional $ 88, and the average commercial property would pay an additional $ 231.
Property taxes will fund 47 percent of the city’s proposed operating budget.
Watson said the city predicts a $ 153.5 million deficit in fiscal year 2021 linked to the new coronavirus pandemic if it lasts another 12 months.
Nearly half of that deficit – $ 72.9 million – is linked to an expected decline in revenue due to lower transit rides, according to Ottawa CFO Wendy Stephanson.
Ottawa police budget proposed to increase $ 13.2 million by 2021
Ontario municipalities are not allowed to run deficits by the end of the year, but Watson said he expects federal and provincial governments will help “make the whole” city budget gap in the coming year.
Mayor Steve Kanellakos said Wednesday that Ottawa has a backup plan in case support from the top levels of government should fall through for some reason. It will likely involve dipping into reserves, cuts in capital expenditure and possible cuts in service, although Kanellakos stressed maintaining service levels for residents is the city’s top priority.
Ottawa has so far received $ 124.2 million in federal-provincial funding through the Safe Restart agreement and has applied for a second round of funding to meet the remainder of its $ 181 million deficit by 2020.
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Under the proposed budget, Ottawa’s city-run nursing homes would receive $ 15 million in new staff resources and personal protective equipment to reduce the risks associated with the pandemic plus an additional $ 9 million for renovations.
The city also plans to hire 14 new paramedics in the coming year.
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The number of riders has been low since the start of the pandemic, and city staff confirmed on Wednesday that it is not certain whether or when transit revenues will bounce back in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis.
Nevertheless, Watson declared his continued support for investment in light rail transit when he spoke to the media after Wednesday’s council meeting.
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He argued that residents and visitors will still have reason to walk downtown even as businesses leave the city center after the pandemic, saying fast-growing parts of the city like Kanata, Stittsville and Barrhaven deserved to be connected to the city’s LRT line.
“There are many prejudiced and gloomy predictions that equestrianism will not return to the level before COVID,” Watson said. “We’re in the long run when it comes to transit.”
Amidst other high-ticket items proposed in Ottawa’s 2021 budget proposal are:
- An increase of $ 13.2 million to the Ottawa Police Service budget including the hiring of 30 new officers;
- $ 98.1 million to Ottawa Public Health, representing $ 74.1 million in basic funding and $ 24 million in non-recurring funds;
- Infrastructure expenditures, including $ 45 million for road construction, $ 28 million for road infrastructure renewal and $ 40 million for rural infrastructure support, plus an additional $ 57 million to fund road growth projects;
- $ 12.6 million for cycling and other active transportation projects;
- $ 15 million in capital expenditures on affordable housing, added to a $ 32 million external grant from the federal government’s rapid housing initiative;
- $ 33 million to support community housing and homelessness programs;
- $ 3 million for retrofitting urban facilities to reduce costs and greenhouse gas emissions.
Public delegations can provide input to the budget proposal in one of the city’s standing committees or boards in the coming month.
The final budget for 2021 will be approved at the City Council meeting on December 9th.
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