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Budget time - have your say!

Sun Feb 11, 2007 Miss Vicky 

Ottawa's draft 2007 budget is now online. there are also a host of supporting documents. It's a lot to take in, and I feel like I've only scratched the surface. But basically, the council has some tough choices ahead: use last year's surplus and other one-time sources to fund a property tax freeze, or find the savings by cutting recently-approved programs, using the gas tax revenue for operating expenses instead of improvements to our transit system, and other unappealing and short-sighted reductions in services.

It's worth reading the fine print in documents like this. And I've only scratched the surface. But here are some of my favourite suggestions:

Move the tax due date up by one week to increase interest revenues. How sneaky can you get? A blatant hidden tax hike, at least for folks who are used to paying by a certain date and may not pay attention to the fine print on the tax bills. At least, that's what they are banking on.

Use Debt financing to fund Strategic Initiative Projects. All this does is defer the increase to next year - and ends up being more costly because we have to fund the interest as well as the cost of the projects.

Defer recommendations from the Auditor General's 2005 Audits that require additional resources. So anything that costs money but improves the city's efficiency (like an audit of the city's internet security, for example), is out.

Reductions in compensation budgets. Since salaries will likely be going up by 3% or so (pretty much a standard public service salary increase), this means vacant positions will go unfilled and there won't be much room for additional positions in departmental budgets. This means less bylaw officers, paramedics, and other city staffers. Hard to improve city service when you're short of staff.

Increase Transit Fares and/or eliminate routes. And they don't just mean the 7.5% increase that's already planned. They mean further increases on a fare that is already the highest in the country. Way to improve transit usage, especially when coupled with the cancellation of light rail and the possible reduction or elimination of routes!

And then there is the long list of service enhancements recently approved by council that could be eliminated. These include fixing up Ottawa's community housing (which has already been deferred and deferred, making City Hall one of the city's worst landlords , badly-needed francophone day care spaces, windrow clearing for seniors, environmental programs like tree reforestation. the land stewardship and wetlands program, looking at the transit impact of bio-diesel fuel.... A week after the transit committee unanimously approved the continuation of the Ontario Disability Transit Pass discount, not only is this program on the chopping block but so is the pilot project to use taxis to help deal with some of the problems with ParaTranspo service. Oh, and for all you folks looking for more transparency in the planning process? The line item that would allow for planning applications to be posted on the city's website is also on the list of cuts.

Is all of this really worth a tax freeze? Where are the so-called efficiencies that our Mayor and right-wing councillors touted during the election? How can they possibly claim that they can achieve their goal of a tax freeze without compromising services? And most of all, what happens next year when we have to deal with this problem all over again?

During the election, our councillor touted the importance of services and getting value for money. Time to find out what she really means by that. Does she support short-term thinking and political expediency that O'Brien's solutions mean for our city? Or is she really interested in making this community better? Kitchissippi's budget consultation meeting is on Thursday, February 15, 7pm at the Churchill Seniors' Centre. Let her know what your priorities are.

Some people were moved to reply

ABC123 Feb 14, 2007 02:08 PM said:

How is this a tax increase by moving the date up by 1 week? How many people do you know that are not prepared to pay their taxes 1 week before they are supposed to pay? You're stretching here.

Using the debt fund is a good idea and this means that the city charged its citizens too much last year, so yes, the money should go back to the people without charging them again for it. Very simple.

We don't need that many bylaw officers. With that ridiculous law about idling cars they needed to hire many more officers to cover this. Let it go. This is another example of the left wanting to create a nanny state. No big brother please! Heard this on CFRA, there are approximately 1 staffer for every 27 persons in Ottawa, again, way too many. As well, they hire out too many consultants and severance packages are way too high.

The Light rail project was a bad idea as Ottawa needs East-West rather than North-South. Chiarelli seemed hell bent on ramming this through and didn't let the councillors even look at the contract. I don't know why any councillor would vote for it without even looking at it. Ridiculous. There needs a big culture change at City Hall. Heck, we don't even have an answer as to what happened to the guy at OC Transpo who was let go but given a huge severance.

ABC123 Feb 15, 2007 11:31 AM said:

Interesting the news we find out today. Siemans is trying to threaten/blackmail city councillors all the while they're in negotiations with the Mayor. Then we find out that Diane Deans is talking to Bob Chiarelli about keeping light rail alive. Something very underhanded is going on and its going against the will of the people.

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