(Photo: The 2015 draft budget includes $150,000 for two new arena dehumidifiers at the Goulbourn Rec Centre. Photo by Barry Gray.)
Mayor Jim Watson wants us to judge the City budget on how much (or how little) more tax we’ll pay. Limiting the tax increase in 2016 to 2% is a good thing, but putting so much emphasis on this one metric makes me wonder what we’re not being told.
For example, your water and sewer charge will be going up by six percent, adding nearly as much to your yearly household bill as the tax increase will. Watson left that part out of his budget speech. (A 6% water bill increase adds about $49 to the average yearly bill. A 2% tax increase translates to about $72 more in municipal taxes for an urban home assessed at $375,300.)
Here are a few questions I have for Mayor Watson and his finance team:
- The draft budget includes $40,000 per ward for traffic calming, but how many speed bumps or flex-signs does that actually pay for? Is it enough to address the many neighbourhood problems that we have in Stittsville?
- What exactly is being cut? And how will the cuts impact services? Here’s a concern raised by Kitchisippi councillor Jeff Leiper, who says that the draft budget lacks transparency in explaining how “efficiencies” are being found: “We’re going to need a lot of answers between now and when the budgets are debated at committee to understand whether this budget is as advertised: a balance between a low tax increase and no impact to services. I don’t feel comfortable that we have enough information to determine whether we’re putting our future ability to do public works at risk given how much of our reserves we’re spending.”
- Is the budget good for the long-term financial health for our city? Veteran councillor Rick Chiarelli brought this up in an interview with the Ottawa Citizen recently: “We are currently only investing a fraction of what our dedicated public service and outside accountants advise is the optimum level of investment in repair, maintenance and lifecycle replacement to achieve the mid and long range lowest cost to taxpayers. Failure to invest enough in these elements of the budget are false savings… Every dollar we evade spending on these things can create a bill of 10-50 times that amount in avoidable future costs when, instead, we have to reconstruct the asset.”
- Are we getting our fair share in the suburbs? Citizen columnist David Reevely offers a cogent analysis on “assessment growth”, and how tax revenue from new condos and communities gets incorporated into the city budget: “Coun. Marianne Wilkinson, who represents Kanata North, has complained for years that new neighbourhoods in her ward have been denied transit service they deserve. Mainly, OC Transpo has stretched its existing service to cover more territory rather than putting more buses on new routes. If you live in Kanata Lakes or Morgan’s Grant (or any of Ottawa’s newer suburbs outside the Greenbelt), and you wonder why the bus isn’t better, the cannibalizing of assessment-growth money is one reason. “
Councillor Shad Qadri told StittsvilleCentral.ca in an email last week that he was generally pleased with the draft budget.
“There are a number of important items for Stittsville and I will continue to work on other items that I also feel require funding in our community,” he said. (Although he wouldn’t elaborate on what those other items may be.)
You can find more information on the budget and how it impacts Stittsville on Qadri’s web site. You can send comments to email@example.com. And if you can fit your comments into 140 characters, tweet them using the hashtag #ottbudget.
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