By Councillor Carol Anne Meehan
Ottawa City Council passed its budget directions on July 21st, in the last meeting before the end of August. We are on a legislative break, but that does not mean many of us will not be working. The mayor has thrown down the gauntlet, challenging councillors who are not in favour of a three percent tax hike in 2022 to find savings.
I was one of those who voted against the budget direction, which not only calls for a tax hike of three percent but will hike the transit rate by 4.5 percent and raise all user fees.
I was frankly surprised to see a three percent increase being suggested, especially after everything Ottawa residents have been through with the pandemic. It will take many people a long time to recover from job losses, and lost income. I know paying the tax bill this year was a challenge for many, and now we are facing the prospect of paying more next year. It did not take long for my mailbox to fill with residents angry and frustrated that the city was not cutting costs.
No, there was no mention of cutting costs. In fact, in his address to council July 21st, Mayor Watson touted the three percent goal, saying “the city has been prudent, people are struggling, and we have to make life affordable. We are showing residents we can live within our means.”
Mayor Watson sees three percent as a modest increase. But that’s three percent on top of the three percent increase we saw in 2021, and all the increases in every previous year.
If ever there was a time to hold the line on taxes, it’s this year. No one at the city lost their job; we continued to run transit buses throughout the pandemic, even though ridership fell to record lows which cost the taxpayer hundreds of millions of dollars. It was pretty much businesses as usual at the city.
At Council I explained that I could not support the budget direction because it does not reflect reality.
The mayor, never one to miss an opportunity to jab, fired back, “Can’t wait to see your plan for cuts.”
Is he right? Will whittling down that three percent automatically mean cuts?
I take the position that the first step is to identify savings, direct managers to cut any fat, and suggest new ideas. Why can’t we reward managers who find ways to do more with less?
The biggest misconception being spread at City Hall is that Council and the bureaucrats have been diligent managers of our finances. I do not share this perspective. Every year, taxes and fees go up, service either stagnates or is reduced and we add even more to the mountain of debt that we racked up over the past decade.
I need taxpayers to step up and speak out. Contact the Mayor and other City Councillors. The pandemic has impacted almost everything in our world, expect the steady as it goes attitude at City Hall.
We need things to change, but we must work together to make it happen.