City councillors and residents from Ottawa's five central wards spent Tuesday evening exploring the ways in which the city could spend extra tax dollars if the mayor and rest of council ever loosen their grip on the annual tax increase, currently capped at two per cent.

About 100 people attended the meeting at city hall to hear five pitches including improved winter maintenance, long-term arts funding, sustainable funding for new social services organizations, affordable housing and transitioning to cleaner energy.

The meeting was hosted by Rideau-Rockcliffe Coun. Tobi Nussbaum, Rideau-Vanier Coun. Mathieu Fleury, Capital Coun. David Chernushenko, Somerset Coun. Catherine McKenney and Kitchissippi Coun. Jeff Leiper.

They asked the crowd to consider paying one per cent more than they currently do in taxes  — adding $14 million to city revenue and an expense of $35 per year for the average homeowner.

Green energy, new social enterprises

The most popular pitches were a $4 million capital investment in affordable housing, the renewable energy plan and supporting new social service organizations. 

Janice Ashworth, general manager of the Ottawa Renewable Energy Co-op, said the Ottawa Chamber of Commerce is urging council to work on the energy transition.

Janice Ashworth Oct 17, 2017 budget consultation

Janice Ashworth, general manager at the Ottawa Renewable Energy Co-op, said the Ottawa Chamber of Commerce had already been involved in a year-long consultation on clean energy opportunities at the city. (Matthew Kupfer/CBC)

She sketched out a $1.5 million plan to spend on electric car charging stations, a sustainability audit office, a tower retrofit program to improve energy efficiency and net-metering for solar energy.

"Let's take advantage of this money-making opportunity, let's stop wasting taxpayer dollars literally in smokestacks or in wasted heat from inefficient light bulbs," she said. 

Jason Garlough — co-founder of Hidden Harvest, an social enterprise that uses urban foraging to get food for people in need — proposed a $500,000 increase to existing funding for community groups providing social funding and a matching increase available to new, innovative organizations.

Jason Garlough Hidden Harvest Oct 17 2017

Jason Garlough, co-founder of Hidden Harvest, said social enterprise organizations like his could use funding from the city to bring more money into the city to address social and environmental issues. (Matthew Kupfer/CBC)

"The innovation isn't difficult, sustaining that innovation and supporting it is very difficult. Especially accessing a very small amount of money from the City of Ottawa, when there's some risk involved," Garlough said.

He said the money could go towards dozens of groups already working, such as Hidden Harvest or Operation Come Home, which helps homeless youth.

Raise taxes, reallocate road funding

People at the consultation gave their feedback through live electronic votes. They most often favoured paying for the programs through a combination of raising taxes and reallocating existing city funds. 

When asked where money should be taken from in the existing budget, the overwhelming response was to take from the budget for roads and parking — areas that may be a hard sell with other members of council.

"We are only five of 24 members of council, so if people feel that these messages ought to be heard by more of us, they should come out and speak to all of council at the committee stage," Nussbaum said.

He added some ideas, such as the energy efficiency proposal, may get an easier reception when councillors consider the long-term savings.

"Ensuring that the budget is putting up the capital now to save money down the road is both an environmental and economic priority," he said.

"it's something I think the city should be investing more in." 

Draft budget next month

The discussion is likely theoretical, since neither the mayor nor the majority of councillors have shown any appetite to raise the property tax rate beyond the two per cent cap already pledged.

There are two more formal budget consultations planned, according to the City of Ottawa:

  • Thursday, Oct. 19 at 6 p.m. at the Nepean Sportsplex,
  • Thursday, Oct. 26 at 6 p.m. at Ben Franklin Place on Centrepointe Drive.

The city's draft 2018 budget will be released on Nov. 8, then will be discussed by councillors, experts and the public at committees over the next four weeks.

It goes to city council for approval Dec. 13.