Mayor Jim Watson discusses the city’s 2012 budget
THE CITY OF Ottawa’s draft budget, released on Oct. 26, will take on necessary infrastructure improvements, said Ottawa mayor Jim Watson. The project, titled Ottawa on the Move, provides over $340 million in funding, providing the city with better roads, sidewalks, and bike paths. The city will also see changes in OC Transpo fares and services.
“First of all, [the infrastructure improvements are] needed,” said Watson about the Ottawa on the Move project in an interview with the Fulcrum. “Secondly, we want to get this work out of the way before we begin work on light rail, which will disrupt the city. We don’t want to have them both come at the same time. And third, we want to make sure the city is not a construction zone for 2017, which is the 150th anniversary of Confederation.”
To pay for the projects, the draft budget proposes a property tax increase of 2.39 per cent, in line with Watson’s campaign promise to keep tax increases under 2.5 per cent. The city will also be taking money out of reserves to pay for the infrastructure projects.
“Our reserves are going to be higher at the end of next year than they were in the beginning of the year,” said Watson. “If we speed up some of these projects, we will actually be saving about $12.5 million because it’s cheaper to borrow now than to prolong the construction over time for a higher inflation rate.”
Other changes include price increases for OC Transpo. Fares are expected to go up by 2.5 per cent, while University of Ottawa and Carleton University students will have to vote in a U-Pass referendum to decide whether to continue the program despite a $70 increase in its price.
“The price is still a deep discount from what [the students] would normally pay,” said Watson. “It’s not as deep as what they’ve been used to, but the agreement all the student leaders signed said it would be revenue-neutral. Our staff went back, calculating the price for revenue neutrality, and that’s the price that will go forward on the referendum.”
Watson said there are other changes students should be aware of. The budget allocates $12 million to improve existing and build new bike paths, 75 new busses will be added to the OC Transpo’s fleet to accommodate higher ridership, and the price of the city’s recreational programs will be frozen.
“Recreational fee freezes are important,” said Watson. “Many [U of O] students use the Sandy Hill [Community Centre] and other recreational centres in the vicinity, so freezing those fees keeps it more affordable.”
Watson said it’s his first time collaborating with city management on the document and he appreciates the experience.
“In the past, it was a city staff-driven document,” he said. “Now I’ve got some skin in the game because the city manager and I co-present the budget.”
“It’s pretty much a stable, predictable budget that I believe will serve the city well,” Watson added.