Councillor Gower: What the City is doing to control expenses during COVID-19

Stittsville Councillor Glen Gower has recently held a virtual Q&A on the upcoming draft City budget and provided the opportunity for residents to provide comments by participating in his budget survey. He further explains to Stittsville residents how spending is being controlled by the City during the COVID-19 pandemic through services, programs and staffing.

This week Ottawa City Council will table a draft budget, kicking off a month-long process to review the City’s financial plan for 2021. This is going to be the toughest budget we’ve ever put together because of the ongoing impacts of COVID-19.

We’ve been asking residents to share their budget priorities heading into next year.  Thank you to everyone who completed our budget survey and attended our virtual Q&A last month. 

One of the questions you’ve asked is how the City plans to keep spending under control while the pandemic continues. Here are some of the measures we’ve already taken to adjust our spending.

At the start of the pandemic, the City placed 4,280 part-time staff on declared emergency leave, reduced its summer student program significantly and delayed hiring. There’s a pause to discretionary spending and staffing that will continue into 2021. These actions reduced expenditures by $89-million in 2020. Many capital projects were deferred from 2020 to a later year, which helped curb capital spending by millions of dollars in 2020.

Even before COVID-19, staff have been conducting operational reviews to ensure that administrative staff is as lean as possible.  From 2001 to 2018, the City has achieved $361-million in efficiency savings, and eliminated 1,658 FTEs (full-time equivalent jobs).  Efficiency savings in the last five years alone saved a total of $57.3-million.  From 2011 to 2018 staff growth was essentially frozen.

While the City has taken significant steps to mitigate expenses, we’re seeing additional pressures due to COVID-19. For example, we require additional PPE to protect both our staff and residents to provide services in a safe and secure manner. The provincially prescribed regulations increase our costs in delivering and re-opening our services and we are required by law to follow these. We also have significant costs associated with enhanced cleaning protocols for transit, paramedics and other city services. We’ve also had more demand and expenses for community and social support services, like long-term care homes and emergency shelters. All of these increase the City’s expenditures and they are not optional, we must do these things

What’s nextBy law, we can’t run a deficit at City Hall.  We can dip into reserves to cover some of the shortfall, but at the end of the day we have to balance our books. This week, City staff will be recommending additional measures to keep costs under control and continue to provide essential City services into 2021, despite the many unknowns that we continue to encounter from COVID-19.  I’ll share more information on my web site and I always welcome your feedback at glen.gower@ottawa.ca.


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