Eyes on police, transit charges when City of Ottawa presents budget draft

The City of Ottawa’s spending plans for next year will be determined tomorrow in the usual three acts, but much of the attention will likely be on the opening and closing meetings when the Ottawa Police Service and OC Transpo unveil their respective draft budgets.

The goal of increasing the municipal property tax by three percent for 2022 was already set last summer when the city council gave their staff instructions to prepare the budget proposal. The main document, which will list $ 4 billion nationwide for operations, will be presented at a city council meeting at 6 p.m. 10.00 in the middle of police and transit budget meetings.

The police budget will come under close control at. 8:30. Lawyers wanting incidents dealt with by spending less on officers and more on social services had called for the force’s budget to be frozen, and a possible $ 14 million increase being diverted.

The Ottawa Police Service has been working on its budget all year and came up with three scenarios. In late September, it received board approval to develop a budget with a zero percent increase for 2022 as a starting point.

Any further consumption would require a “detailed explanation”, and two major factors could lead to the 2022 budget still coming higher than in 2021: inflationary pressures and wage increases under a new agreement.

Ottawa City Hall will be the site of budget debate over the next month. (CBC)

The pandemic pressure continues

When it comes to city spending overall, the ongoing effects of the pandemic will continue to penetrate this last budget for the council term.

The current year – and 2020 before that – has seen huge pandemic-related costs, while the city runs a low-passenger transit system, continues to vaccinate residents and runs relief centers for the homeless. Such deficiencies have mostly been covered by more than $ 200 million from the top levels of government through programs such as the Safe Restart Agreement and the Social Services Relief Fund.

However, COVID-19 continues to affect the daily life of the city. When staff began budgeting this summer, they did not expect to receive federal and provincial assistance by 2022. Instead, they are expected to turn to reserves and other ways to mitigate the ongoing effects on city books, given that municipalities in Ontario may not have deficits.

The biggest shortcoming is at OC Transpo. Transit has been hardest hit by the pandemic when riders stopped commuting to work in large numbers back in March 2020.

Last year’s budget was designed to keep the service running as usual, but with rider numbers averaging 70 percent of pre-pandemic levels. It has not come close, and ticket revenues fell far below expectations.

Typically, the city raises ticket prices by 2.5 percent each year. It also intends to raise the transit tax on property tax bills by up to 4.5 per cent.

Ottawa Public Health also anticipates a third fiscal year that is heavily impacted by COVID-19. It presented a draft budget at its meeting on Monday of $ 123 million for 2022, of which $ 48 million is one-time funding to continue its pandemic response. It will not allocate any funds for third-dose vaccinations for COVID-19 until the Ontario government sets its plans.

The city of Ottawa is responsible for $ 26 million of the public health budget, while the province covers the majority.

The many draft budget documents presented on Wednesday start a month of meetings, held committee by committee, to scrutinize the expenses of each department before a final budget for 2022 is adopted by the City Council on 8 December.

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