Ottawa city council passes 2016 budget

For the first time in Jim Watson’s second tenure as Ottawa mayor, he could not secure a unanimous vote on his budget on Wednesday.

The $3.2-billion budget still passed Wednesday – albeit by a vote of 18-5 – which means ratepayers will see their property tax bills rise by two per cent next year.

Councillors Catherine McKenney, Jeff Leiper, Diane Deans, Rick Chiarelli and Tobi Nussbaum voted against the budget.

“I had a good run with five unanimous budgets, but I knew that this budget was going to be the toughest one,” said Watson.

Councillors and staff went into the committee-by-committee budget process knowing two things. They would face a $36.3-million budget shortfall next year, and they could not raise taxes by more than two per cent – a cap on which Watson was not willing to budge.

The mayor’s priorities for next year include a predictable tax rate in line with inflation, protecting frontline services and continuing to grow important projects, like Arts Court or light-rail transit.

At the end of the day, taxpayers will also see a six per cent hike on their water and sewer bills next year and a 2.5 per cent fare hike.

Leiper said council has been shackled to Watson’s two-per-cent tax hike and Deans said council is “hell-bent” on staying within that target.

“Mr. Mayor, this is your budget. It’s not mine,” she said.

Watson said no councillor came forward with motions on how to save money, other than raising taxes or spending.

“Budgets are always difficult in difficult economic times, but I think we’ve maintained the kind of services that the public expect,” he said. “We didn’t go through a slash-and-burn exercise, which would have been the easy thing to do.”

To help offset next year’s shortfall, the city will need to dip into the $23-million fleet and equipment reserve for one-time bridge funding.

This article originally appeared on metronews.ca on Dec. 9.