Budget 2020 interest lacking

KINBURN – There were more City of Ottawa staff for the budget consultation aspect of last Tuesday’s (Oct. 22) Budget 2020 info session then there were people in attendance.

The session was held at the Kinburn Community Centre Tuesday evening and was the first public consultation as Ottawa Council begins the process of approving the 2020 City of Ottawa budget. Before the consultation began, the evening was also an opportunity for residents to Meet Your City Services. The doors opened at 6 p.m. so residents could speak one-on-one with city staff organized by department.

At 7 p.m. the event shifted to a consultation period where city staff explained the budget process, discussed general Budget 2020 directions and took input from residents.

Perhaps residents were recovering from the collective national election hangover from the night before (Oct. 21), but by the time the consultation period began, there were only nine residents in the chairs laid out.

Three of them were recognizable to West Carleton Online for the regular community involvement. Fitzroy Harbour resident Ken Holmes who sits on a few West Carleton advisory committees was present. Holmes regularly lobbies for improved road maintenance and Internet service for the community. Carp Road Business Improvement Association President Roddy Bolivar was in attendance. The 300 businesses that make up the BIA list public transit, in some form, and improved water service as their priorities. New Western Ottawa Community Resource Centre executive director Michell Hurtubise was also present. She regularly lobbies for improved social infrastructure.

Last year, Ottawa Council tabled a $3.6 billion budget.

During the question period, Holmes brought up West Carleton’s roads.

“I see by 2024 the city expects to spend like $92 million annually in the roads budget,” he said. “That’s sort of a good news story. The bad news is our roads aren’t going to make it until 2024. The rate of deterioration is continuing.”

Holmes says roads in poor condition add about $300 a year to the average motorists’ maintenance bills.

“We’re basically paying an additional road tax,” he said. “Our roads are falling apart because we are not investing in them. What can you, as a councillor do?”

“The city on its own is doing what we can with the tax money we have,” Coun. Eli El-Chantiry replied. “We know what we need. Are the taxpayers willing to pay the five or six per cent more we need to get it done? We have to find that balance with the resources we have. We’re trying to do our best to find out what may be available from the feds and provincially.”

Holmes is also concerned about the paramedic service. A recent report stated there have been several instances of what staff call level zero – where there are no city ambulances available to respond to calls.

For a period totalling more than five days over the first eight months of this year, there were no ambulances available to respond to medical emergencies, according to a report released by the City of Ottawa.

There were 329 level zero occurrences between January and August 2019, totalling 138.4 hours, according to the city. The longest single period without any available ambulances lasted seven hours and 40 minutes.

It’s not a new problem, but it is one that is getting worse.

City council blames the hospitals for the potential crisis.

When a paramedic team drops a patient off at the hospital, they aim to transfer care to hospital staff within 30 minutes. But in Ottawa, it’s taking closer to one hour and 20 minutes.

At the Ottawa Hospital, which includes the Civic and General campuses, it takes even longer: more than 90 minutes, or three times the target time.

What’s more, the off-load delays are increasing. In the first seven months of 2019, Ottawa hospitals saw a 12.5 per cent bump in the length of time ambulances are spending waiting at the emergency room over last year. 

“We have zero control over what the hospitals use its money for,” El-Chantiry said. “We are talking to the province to do what they’re supposed to do and put money towards that offloading nurse.”

For those who were unable to attend the budget session, there are still many ways to contribute to Budget 2020 consultations: