Watson turns down Ford's 'strange' offer to help find cuts
Ontario premier offers up audit to help municipalities trim budgets by 4%
Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson has no interest in taking Ontario Premier Doug Ford up on his offer to have an auditor comb the city's books to find savings, he said Wednesday.
"I'm not prepared to accept someone coming in to do a line-by-line [audit] while, at the same time, they've already prejudged how much is going to be cut," Watson told reporters.
On Tuesday, Ford told municipalities his government would pay for third-party reviews and find the same degree of savings as his Progressive Conservatives are seeking in Ontario's finances: four per cent.
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Four per cent of the City of Ottawa's $3.6-billion annual operating budget would mean trimming some $150 million, and Watson said he knows what that would require.
"Significant cuts in services and laying off people, plain and simple. Because the bulk of our budget obviously is labour costs."
A 'strange' offer
Watson said he found Ford's offer "strange" because the city's books are open and audited every year. Municipalities in Ontario are the only level of government forbidden from running a deficit — the only level of government held to such a standard — so the city has already worked to find efficiencies in order to keep tax increases capped, Watson said.
These are not frills.- Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson
Council increased property taxes by three per cent in March 2019, compared to 2 per cent the year before, in part because it was concerned about what might come from the Ford government's first spending plan, Watson said.
That provincial budget tabled in April has vexed municipalities across Ontario with cuts to important services — cuts the cities are only learning about little by little, and only after their own annual budgets have been set.
"If they want to develop a good partnership, the way to do that is not to go and constantly blindside us with these cuts to basic services, whether it's health care or paramedic service," Watson said.
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Watson said despite the province making the city's finances "tipsy turvy," he will try to keep taxes capped at three per cent for 2020.
The city treasurer is tallying up the impact the Ontario budget will have on the City of Ottawa, and Watson said it might mean $2 million less for paramedics and possibly $6 million less for public health.
"These are not frills," Watson said.
In fact, the city has been steadily hiring paramedics over the past few years, and Ottawa is only now managing to catch up and meet its legislated standard for ambulance response times, said Anthony Di Monte, general manager of emergency and protective services.
The city still plans to hire 14 paramedics in 2019 even though the province has frozen its half of the money for it, Di Monte added.