Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson promised neither deep cuts to programs and services, nor a pre-election "spending spree" as the city tabled the draft 2014 operating and capital budgets on Wednesday.
"What I've always tried to do in the budget is make sure that we respect the wishes of council, but they understand that we have limitations,” Watson said Tuesday.
"There's not a bottomless pit of money. There's certainly projects that will go into wards, but there's nothing out of the norm that we haven't seen in the last couple of years," he said.
"There's not going to be a massive spending spree because it's an election year. That's not the way I operate, and the city can't afford to operate that way."
Staff keeps tax increase under 2 per cent
City council directed staff to draft a budget with a tax increase under two per cent, which they did at 1.9 per cent.
That means next year's hike is the lowest since Watson took office with a promise to hold the line at 2.5 per cent. At the same time, the city is tackling major infrastructure projects such as the light rail transit system and "Ottawa on the Move," transportation projects and also freezing recreation user fees.
"We want to make sure that we don't go through a slash and burn exercise,” said Watson. "We want to invest in important infrastructure and social programs so that we ensure that we remain a liveable, positive quality of life city."
Transit users also saw a 1.9-per-cent fare increase.
Meanwhile the city continues to borrow to pay for a series of massive infrastructure projects. A recent $150-million debt issue pushes the city's total debt burden to $1.65-billion. But Watson insists that's an amount the city can manage, and falls within borrowing limits set for municipalities under the Municipal Act.
"This is a budget that's going to live well within the boundaries set by the province, and our own city council-imposed boundaries in terms of how much debt we can issue. We know that a number of large projects such as light rail, Ottawa on the Move and Lansdowne do require dollars that have to be borrowed, because it's not fair for the current generation of taxpayers to pay the full freight on projects that future taxpayers will benefit from."