2011 Ottawa public budget consultations

I just got back from attending the city budget meeting. This was one of five public meetings held so that the voters and taxpayers can provide feedback and comments on the Ottawa city budget. The meeting was held at the Nepean Sportsplex. It was my first time to go to a city meeting. About 10 councillors and Mayor Watson were present to discuss the budget and answer questions.

I was asked to represent Les Petits Ballets at the meeting. As a representative of Les Petits Ballets, our goal was to secure the preferred rate for community programming at Centrepointe Theatre as well as other cost-related questions around Centrepointe Theatre and its recent expansion.

When I put my questions to the city representatives, the answer was that the community rates would float up at 2.5%, the same as the rate of inflation. Councillor Rick Chiarelli responded that other rates had increased at more than the inflation rate, and the Centrepointe rates were increasing at a lower rate. However, the other recreation fees (i.e. fees for rink rentals or soccer field rentals) would be frozen at the 2010 levels.

I also learned more about the Ottawa city budget. The budget is $2.632 billion, no small amount. I was surprised it was that big. It is larger than the federal budget of the country of Honduras. 48% of the revenue comes from property taxes. 16% comes from federal or provincial grants. 26% comes from usage fees and charges.

Each year, 6000 new tax rolls are added to Ottawa – meaning roughly 6,000 new homes. That’s a lot too. And it explains why there are so many new subdivisions being created here in Barrhaven.

The budget has $700 million in capital expenditures (as opposed to services or payroll). The city owns assets that cost $10 billion, but that would be worth $30 billion to buy in today’s dollar. Large capital items, like new bridges, are amortized over the life of the infrastructure. For example, the Downtown Ottawa Transit Tunnel (DOTT) will cost $735 million, but each year taxpayers would pay only a fraction of that total expenditure.

The city of Ottawa cannot declare OC Transpo, the public transportation system, as an essential service. This is because OC Transpo also covers parts of the city of Gatineau in Quebec. Because it crosses the provincial boundary, it falls under federal jurisdiction, not city jurisdiction. The city of Windsor has the same issue, as the city busses there go to Detroit, Michigan.

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