CBC: 7 Councillors vote against Ottawa transit budget

By Joanne Chianello

Mayor Jim Watson oversaw the tabling of the 2020 draft budget last month. It was passed Wednesday relatively unchanged, but seven councillors voted against the transit portion. (Giacomo Panico/CBC)

Ottawa city council voted unanimously for a 2020 budget that will boost property taxes by three per cent. But seven councillors voted against the

transit operations budget because they don't think there's enough money in it to make transit reliable.

The $3.76 billion operating budget, in addition to $813 million for capital expenditures, will see more money poured into affordable housing, snow removal and transit — at a cost of a three per cent boost to property taxes.

That means the owner of an average-priced home will pay an additional $109 in taxes next year.

The budget includes an additional $15 million for affordable housing and an extra $5.6 million toward snow-and-ice clearing — for a total of $78.3 million in 2020 — in a bid to hit the right target on a budget envelope that has run deficits every year since 2012.

The budget earmarks $51 million for road resurfacing and $9.8 million for pothole repair, a seven per cent increase over 2019.

Mayor Jim Watson said he was "very pleased" with this year's budget, which he thought "was going to be more difficult because of the provincial cuts and downloads, but a lot of those were reversed."

The provincial budget tabled earlier this year had contained cuts to paramedic and public health services that the city would have had trouble covering. However, the province reversed most of those cuts, or at least put them off for now. As well, the federal government's one-time doubling of gas-tax transfers, which amounted to an additional $57 million, helped keep taxes relatively low.

"It addresses all the needs we've heard time and time again — we need to improve the quality of roads, the reliability of transit and increase the number of affordable housing units," Watson told reporters after Wednesday's council meeting, the last of the year.

"And the budget does that. And I think that's why I think everyone around the council table voted for it."

But seven councllors didn't think there was enough money being added to transit operations to improve OC Transpo's bus service to a reliable level.

The councillors who voted against this part of the budget were: Catherine McKenney, Riley Brockington, Shawn Menard, Carol Anne Meehan, Theresa Kavanagh, Jeff Leiper, and Rick Chiarelli, who left soon after this vote, missing the overall budget vote.

Meehan pointed out the overtime budget for 2020 seemed unrealistic. The overtime budget for next year is set for $18.2 million — lower than the last year's OT budget, which OC Transpo blew by $5.4 million.

Brockington told CBC that he is "not satisfied with senior management" and didn't want to give them "a vote of confidence."

"I don't think we have sufficient resources for the bus system," said Brockington. "I know we're ironing out LRT and ParaTranspo but I do believe that the Achilles heel of the system is the bus network."

There are some improvements planned for OC Transpo next year, including 19 new buses. Fares are being frozen until at least March and the city plans to hire an additional 100 drivers. And last month, Watson declared that 40 buses that were supposed to be sold off after the LRT launch be put back on the road.

But these seven councillors don't believe that increasing transit operations by $11.3 million to $436.9 million — a 2.7 per cent increase — is enough.

"Clearly significant new resources need to go into transit to fund service to the level that people expect," Leiper said. "I don't believe the budgeted amount is going to allow us to provide the service that residents expect and deserve.

"To support the transit budget as written is simply dishonest at this point."

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