Eyes on police, transit spending when City of Ottawa tables draft budget

The City of Ottawa's spending plans for next year will be laid out 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 reveal respective draft budgets.

2022 draft budget to be tabled on Wednesday

The property tax bill for Ottawa residents is expected to rise by 2.5 per cent again in 2022.

The City of Ottawa's spending plans for next year will be laid out 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 reveal respective draft budgets.

The goal of a three per cent municipal property tax hike for 2022 was already set out this past summer when city council gave their staff directions for crafting the draft budget. The main document, which will set out $4 billion city-wide for operations, will be tabled at a 10 a.m. city council meeting in the middle of the police and transit budget meetings.

The police budget will come under close scrutiny at 8:30 a.m. Advocates who want 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 redirected.

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 per cent increase for 2022 as its base.

Any additional spending would require a "detailed explanation," and two big factors could lead the 2022 budget to still come in higher than in 2021: inflationary pressures and wage increases under a new collective agreement.

Ottawa City Hall will be the place for budget debate over the next month. (CBC)

Pandemic pressures continue

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

The current year — and 2020 before it — has seen huge pandemic-related costs while the city runs a transit system with low ridership, continues to vaccinate residents, and operates respite centres for those who are homeless. Such shortfalls have been mostly covered by more than $200 million from upper levels of government through such programs as the Safe Restart Agreement and Social Services Relief Fund. 

COVID-19 continues to affect the day-to-day life of the city, however. When staff embarked on the budget this summer, they didn't expect to get federal and provincial help in 2022. Instead, they are expected to turn to reserves and other ways to mitigate the ongoing effects on the city's books, given that municipalities in Ontario are not allowed to run deficits.

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

Last year's budget was crafted to keep service running as usual, but with ridership getting back to 70 per cent of pre-pandemic levels on average. It's come nowhere close, and the fare revenue fell far below expectations.

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

Ottawa Public Health also foresees a third fiscal year affected greatly by COVID-19. It presented a draft budget at its meeting Monday of $123 million for 2022, of which $48 million is one-time funding to continues its pandemic response.

No funding has been allocated yet for third doses of COVID-19 for the general population, also called boosters, until the Ontario government sets out its plan, which is expected on Wednesday.

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 tabled Wednesday will kick off a month of meetings, held committee by committee, to scrutinize the spending of each department before a final 2022 budget is adopted by city council on Dec. 8.


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