Ottawa Police Service, City of Ottawa introduce draft budgets today

It’s draft budget day at Ottawa City Hall.

The city will lay out its multi-billion dollar spending plan for 2023 today before a whirlwind consultation period this month leading up to final approval March 1.

Mayor Mark Sutcliffe and a slate of rookie councillors will vote alongside veteran council members on the outlines of how the city plans to spend tax dollars on everything from road repairs to social services and policing.

The first order of business is the Ottawa Police Service budget. The meeting gets underway at 8:30 a.m. This year’s policing budget is expected to surpass $400 million, or just under 9 per cent of the city’s overall budget, in a time when police are facing greater scrutiny over spending and greater opposition to funding increases.

Critics also oppose the additional police funding when the City of Ottawa is facing budgetary pressures in other areas, such as public transit.

The Ottawa Police Services Board unanimously approved a plan to direct staff to draft the next budget based on a 2.5% tax increase and an estimated 2.2% increase in taxes resulting from growth at its meeting Jan. 23.

The police services board will vote to approve its 2023 budget Feb. 27, before it heads to council March 1 for final approval.

City Council begins at 10 a.m., where the remainder of the city’s spending plan is on the agenda.

Council voted to direct staff to draft the city budget with a 2 to 2.5 per cent property tax increase, and directed the library, public health, police and transit commission to develop draft budgets with a maximum 2.5 per cent increase. A 2.5 per cent property tax increase would add $104 to the average homeowner’s tax bill this year, if approved.

Ottawa Public Health’s 2023 budget is drafted at $128 million. The Ottawa Public Library Board has drafted a $60.5 million budget for 2023.

Some councillors have criticized an across-the-board 2.5 per cent cap on budget increases, because it favours larger budgets, like the Ottawa Police Service, while hindering smaller departmental budgets.

“That equates to 1.3 million (more) for public health, and yet we’re increasing the police budget by 15 million,” said Coun. Shawn Menard during the debate on budget directions in mid-December.

Inflation is the main driver for the pressures the city is facing. Revenues are also under pressure, as OC Transpo ridership remains below pre-pandemic levels and council has approved a plan to freeze fares at 2022 levels for the year, while staff had recommended a 2.5 per cent fare increase. Freezing fares would mean $5 million less in revenue, according to staff. Sutcliffe has also vowed to reduce youth recreational program fees by 10 per cent, at a cost of about $350,000.

Staff say they will be including a “list of efficiencies and opportunities” as part of the 2023 budget. Sutcliffe has also vowed a line-by-line spending review to find $35 million in efficiencies at Ottawa City Hall.

The budget to come before council today is based on directions approved at a meeting on Dec. 14. The budget directions passed by a vote of 16 to 9.

In favour were: Cathy Curry, Glen Gower, David Brown, Matthew Luloff, Allan Hubley, Catherine Kitts, George Darouze, Stéphanie Plante, Laura Dudas, Wilson Lo, Jessica Bradley (with a dissent against the 2 to 2.5 per cent increase to the police services levy), David Hill, Tim Tierney, Steve Desroches, Clarke Kelly, and Mayor Mark Sutcliffe.

Against were: Riley Brockington, Theresa Kavanagh, Rawlson King, Jeff Leiper, Shawn Menard, Ariel Troster, Marty Carr, Sean Devine, and Laine Johnson.

–With files from CTV’s Josh Pringle.

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