On Wednesday, March 1st Ottawa City Council passed its first budget of this council session for a total of $5.5 billion, which includes a 2.5 per cent increase to property taxes. This was a shorter budget time period due to the election being in 2022 so not enough time to build a 2023 budget earlier. Despite this there were significant efforts made by council members and the Mayor to find improvements to the budget process and get better results for the overall benefit of residents of Ottawa.
One on the most important amendments to the budget was the addition of an extra $1 million to the affordable housing fund that was previously frozen at $15 million. I would like to thank Councillor Laine Johnson and Mayor Sutcliffe for finding this much needed funding increase.
During the municipal election campaign I heard from many residents about the concern for those who were struggling to find accommodation that did not take more than 30% of their household income. At Community Services Committee councillors also heard from the Ottawa Food Bank representatives on how food insecurity is climbing sharply due to rising food costs and residents are struggling to pay their rent while putting food on the table. This is a multi-faceted problem of incomes not keeping up with expenses across our city. As the newly-elected Chair of the Ottawa Community Housing board I am focusing on how we can work with the city of Ottawa to build more affordable housing across the city and keep life affordable. We cannot call our city liveable unless we have housing for all and that includes eliminating homelessness.
Here are a few highlights of the budget:
There will be more portable toilets in our parks with two more units going to each ward. This is a small number, but it is going in the right direction of an essential service for city parks. I have heard from residents on how important it is to access to bathroom facilities when visiting our beaches and parks. There was also a motion by Councillor Shawn Menard to keep wading pools open on Canada Day and the August Civic Holiday.
There will be investments made in parks across the city including Britannia Park where three separate projects are happening. This includes the implementation of a project I initiated to install a seasonal skating rink with a change shack and lighting in the south-west corner of Britannia Park. There will also be a “rock garden”, a feature that is large glacier-erratic rocks in a circular setting, installed in Britannia Park near the gazebo and a brand new junior play structure in the beach area to replace the one that was damaged by arson. Working with the Glabar Park community I am happy to see that there will be improvements made on the pathway to Kingsmere park .
I very much appreciated the participation of local community members in the design phase of all of the above projects and look forward to continuing to work with others in the ward to make more improvements to our parks.
Another new initiative from the City in this budget is making transit free for children under the age of 12 as of July 1 this year. Many thanks to my colleague, Councillor Riley Brockington, for putting forward this amendment to the budget. I believe it will be particularly helpful to families, who do not own a car and travel with their children by bus. It will also encourage bus ridership for children and youth. It should be noted that transit fares this year will not increase and that the Equity and Community Pass fares will remain the same and have not increased since 2018 when I introduced a motion to council to have these transit fares frozen. I am pleased to see that this initiative of keeping fares affordable has continued.
I appreciate that the budget reflects our city council’s commitment to greenhouse gas reduction as we grapple with climate change. Here is a quote from out city’s press release: “This is the first year a climate lens has been applied to all new capital budget requests and adds an incremental $5 million annual capital commitment to help implement the City’s Climate Change Master Plan, supporting efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and enhance climate resiliency through initiatives such as Energy Evolution projects, building retrofits and zero-emission buses.” I support these initiatives, but we need to see more.
In Bay Ward there will be investments in road renewal including portions of Carling Avenue and Moodie Drive. There will be $100,00 invested to redesign sidewalks and add cycle infrastructure to Richmond Road between Bayshore Drive and Pinecrest Road. This is way overdue, and I remain frustrated that construction will not happen until 2024 on this much needed renewal of pedestrian and cycle infrastructure while updating Richmond Road.
This past year I authorized Bay Ward Cash-In-Lieu funds, which is money gained from developers that goes to ward accounts, to kick start a much needed lifecycle renewal project. The first project on the list is the oldest community building, the Woodroffe Park Fieldhouse. Last month city staff were able to present to the community an architectural design of a new building that would be a usable community space for the surrounding area. I want to see more of these projects across the ward to replace aging outdated community infrastructure into usable space for communities.
Overall, the budget process, although truncated, was positive and moving in the right direction of providing communities with the services and amenities they need to be liveable and walkable. There is still much more to do and now that the 2023 budget is behind us it is time to plan and give thought to the 2024 budget. I will continue to listen to community members on the needs for our neighbourhoods.
For a complete list of all the city initiatives in the 2023 Budget please refer to the City of Ottawa press release on the City’s website.