Ottawa taxpayers will see a three per cent increase in their property tax bill in 2022, along with higher transit fares and user fees.
After nine hours of debate, council voted 16 to 8 to approve the 2022 City of Ottawa’s $4 billion operating and capital budget.
“This is probably the worst budget that we have seen at least in the last eight years of my time on council,” said Coun. Catherine McKenney during the final debate on the budget.
“I will not support this budget and I look forward to another term of council where, perhaps, we will turn that page and we will start to look towards a future with a vision to what people, what we all want in this city and that is a much better city than what we’re building here today on Dec. 8, 2021.”
Coun. McKenney, Shawn Menard, Jeff Leiper, Rawlson King, Theresa Kavanagh, Diane Deans, Rick Chiarelli and Mathieu Fleury voted against the budget.
The three per cent property tax increase would see the average urban homeowner pay an additional $119 next year, while the average rural homeowner would pay an additional $91.
The budget includes an additional $73 million for roads, including the widening of the Findlay Creek area of Bank Street, an underpass on Earl Grey Drive and a roundabout on Palladium Drive. There is $11.4 million to improve pedestrian and cycling pathway connections.
The city will invest $17 million to develop more affordable and supportive housing, $27 million in community funding to non-profit social services agencies to help residents facing the greatest need.
To help small businesses, the city will implement a 15-per-cent tax discount for small businesses on qualifying properties.
“There are parts of this budget that is supportable, but overall this budget is underwhelming,” said Deans, noting the budget process is “flawed.”
“The world has changed around us, and yet this budget is business as usual.”
Taxpayers will also see a 4.2 per cent increase in water, wastewater and sewer rates, and pay an extra $12 for garbage collection.
Rental fees for arenas, sports fields and theatres, and recreation fees and program costs will also increase in the new year.
OC Transpo fares will increase 2.5 per cent in 2022, once 15 trains have been running for at least one month.
Councillors voted 15 to 9 to defeat a motion from McKenney to increase the transit levy by 5.97 per cent instead of 4.5 per cent and freeze transit fares.
Council did approve a motion from Riley Brockington to provide free transit to children under 7.
OTTAWA POLICE BUDGET
Council started the meeting with a three-hour debate on the 2022 Ottawa Police Services Budget. Councillors approved the budget with a two per cent increase in funding, lower than the 2.86 per cent that Chief Peter Sloly had originally requested.
Sloly told council that the Ottawa Police Services Board’s decision to scale back the increase by $2.65 million would mean the police service would need to find more than $7 million in savings in the next fiscal year. The chief said the service would go “line by line” to reach that goal. He also stressed he would do everything in his power to prevent having to fire any officers.
The final vote was 19 to 5 in favour of the budget as approved by the police services board, with councillors Menard, McKenney, Leiper, Rick Chiarelli and Jan Harder voting against it.
Several councillors expressed concerns with the efficiencies goal in the Ottawa Police Service Budget, and if police will have the capacity to respond to all requests for service next year.
Deans, the chair of the Ottawa Police Services Board, told councillors, “The sky is not going to fall because we’re asking the police service to find $2 million in additional efficiencies.”
Deans notes the service will hire 22 new officers in 2022.
“There’s going to be more police in 2022 than there was in 2021.”
The police budget has been the most scrutinized spending proposal of council’s 2022 budget, with calls from activists, community groups and some councillors for no increase at all.
Those groups say the smaller budget increase isn’t enough for their communities.
“You can’t be neutral in a situation when it comes to policing because it literally impacts communities as far as our lives,” said Vanessa Dorimain, co-chair of the Ottawa Black Diaspora Coalition, said in a news release on Tuesday.
She called for the money to be put toward crime prevention initiatives, including housing and social programs.
Council supported a motion from Deans to use $550,000 of the $2.65 million in unallocated police funds for the Community and Social Services Department to develop an enhanced or new mental health and addiction crisis response system.
Council also approved a motion from Coun. Jean Cloutier to allocate the remaining $2.1 million to community organizations.