City committee spins wheels on roads budget
Lots of griping about potholes, snow removal, but transportation committee passes budget as is
The City of Ottawa's transportation committee was all fury and no fire Wednesday when councillors condemned a lack of dedicated funding for pothole repair and snow clearing, but unanimously passed the departmental draft budget anyway.
The transportation draft budget includes $117 million to fix and maintain roads, and remove snow. Over the course of a three-and-a-half-hour debate, several councillors expressed worry that the money won't be enough.
I am very concerned about this budget.- Coun. Diane Deans
"I am very concerned about this budget," said Coun. Diane Deans, who has been critical of the budget, particularly when it comes to road repairs.
Deans pointed out to staff that while the 2018 draft budget proposes a $5.5-million increase to the road budget, that's still $9 million short of what the city had to spend in 2017 to fill potholes and resurface roads.
Though she takes issue with the budget, Deans did not suggest any solutions to the committee meeting. She complained the budget process limits the committee to shuffling money around within the department, and offers no opportunity for new funding.
"It's not evident how you would do that without robbing another budget that is also underfunded," she said.
"I think any changes that you see coming, or proposals for changes, will come on Dec. 13 [when full council meets to discuss the city budget] … where we're not handcuffed in the same way."
Any amendments will most likely come forward when council looks at the budget as a whole, she said.
Residents demand road improvements
Mayor Jim Watson said Tuesday he has heard "loud and clear" that residents want more money put into road repair after a particularly difficult year that saw the city fill 256,000 of them.
"I am not optimistic that it's going to improve in the short term unless council reconsiders its priorities," resident Ken Holmes told the committee Wednesday.
Holmes pointed out that 75 per cent of the city's transportation infrastructure is already in sub-par condition, according to the city's own records.
The city is facing a $70-million annual gap in funding to keep roads and other infrastructure in good condition, a shortfall that will take 10 years to close under the city's current funding plan.
City treasurer Marian Similuk said that gap could close in half the time with an additional one-per-cent tax increase.
Transportation committee chair Keith Egli said staff put together a reasonable budget, and he's comfortable with it moving forward.
"We're aware of the concerns, and we're moving forward trying to fix things as best as we can," he said after the meeting.
Egli said next term, councillors will have to discuss whether the city can continue to sustain a two-per-cent cap on tax increases.