Ottawa taxpayers to pay 3% more this year

Ottawa residents and businesses will see their taxes rise an expected three per cent, while the transit levy will increase by 3.5 per cent. Mayor Jim Watson's big reveal? $15 million for housing in 2019.

Police budget manipulated to fit council's tax target

Council will receive its first draft budget of the term on Wednesday morning. (Joanne Chianello/CBC)

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson has pledged $15 million for new housing in 2019, a commitment that came as welcome news to councillors and activists looking for more money to deal with homelessness in the city.

Watson made the promise Wednesday morning during his first budget speech of the term.

Also in the 2019 budget: residents and businesses will see their taxes will rise three per cent, which includes a transit levy increase of 3.5 per cent, as part of a $3.6-billion operating budget for 2019.

Those tax hikes translate to an additional $113 for the owner of an average-value urban home, $93 for a rural homeowner and $238 for a commercial property owner.

But those tax hikes were expected, as council had already given staff direction to create a draft budget based on a three per cent increase, a campaign promise Watson made in last fall's municipal election.

$15M for housing

The money for new housing is mostly one-time funding.

According to treasurer Marian Simulik, the $15-million fund includes $6.5 million from the main budget — only some of which is renewed annually — with $8.5 million from other sources such as reserve funds and an an older federal-provincial affordable housing fund.

Also included in the $15 million is $2 million expected by police to cover an operating shortfall.

Early Wednesday morning, the police service tabled a budget calling for a one-time injection of $4.8 million to keep the force's budget ask within a three per cent tax increase — extra money city officials suggested could help bridge the force's operating costs to next year.

Two hours later, Watson told council police will only get half of that.

"When [the finance committee] meets to consider its budget on March 5, I will be recommending that [the committee] reduce the one-time contribution to the OPS from $4.8 million to $2.4 million," the mayor said in his speech.

Roads, snow and sewers

The budget also includes another of the mayor's election promises: an additional $9.8 million to fix roads, bikelanes and sidewalks.  and an additional 54 paramedics.

Watson said the snow budget will increase by $2.4 million to $70.8 million.

This is unlikely to be enough. The actual amount spent on winter maintenance in each of the last three years has been above $70.8 million. Consider that the snowfall in January alone of this year is almost half the total that fell in all of 2018, according to Environment Canada.

Water and sewer bills are rising, too.

Urban homeowners will see their water and sewer costs rise 4.8 per cent, or $36. For rural homeowners who are not connected to the municipal water system, their storm sewer charges will increase 10.8 per cent, although that translates into just $4.40 per year.

Transit fares go up Canada Day

Because the LRT project has been delayed at least twice so far, council decided to put off raising transit fares. But they will be going up by an average of 2.5 per cent on July 1.

The transit levy, which is only charged to the parts of the city that have transit service, is set to increase by 3.5 per cent.

OC Transpo will spend $5 million to expand bus service across the city when the O-Train is eventually up and running, and will shell out almost $8 million to buy 12 new "short" buses for that additional transit. It's still being decided which routes will get the additional bus service.

Concern over provincial budget

Watson said he's willing to increase taxes to three per cent from the two per cent level of recent years to address municipal issues, but said he is not willing to ask city residents to cover for the federal and particularly the provincial government, which has indicated its plans for fiscal restraint in its upcoming budget.

The mayor said he's heard the province is considering downloading costs such as the transportation of prisoners or even the full cost of paramedics. The budget calls for hiring 14 new paramedics this year alone.

"I am not on for putting an unsustainable burden on the local property taxpayers to step into the shoes of other levels of government," he said. "I have never once met a resident asking me to use their property tax dollars to subsidize the provincial or federal government — both of which have much greater fiscal capacity than the municipal level."


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