El-Chantiry: Budget brings cash now, but savings must be found

WEST CARLETON – Yesterday (Dec. 11) City of Ottawa council unanimously approved the $3.76 billion operating budget, but West Carleton Coun. Eli El-Chantiry says savings need to be found moving forward.

The Ottawa budget was approved unanimously at city council yesterday, and residents will see a three per cent increase in their tax bill over 2019 to help pay for the $136.8 million increase in spending over last year. City staff estimates the increase will be about $9 a month for the average urban home.

El-Chantiry says the increased one per cent, following several years of two per cent increase budgets, will be directed to infrastructure work.

“The work in the budget is important for all of us,” El-Chantiry told West Carleton Online today (Dec. 12). “We heard loud and clear the community wants us to do a better job on roads.”

Infrastructure spending on roads, sidewalks and facilities amounts to $151 million, which is an increase of 18 per cent over 2019. The road resurfacing budget, including preservation and rural road upgrades, is $51 million, up from the yearly average of $35.5 million in the last Term of Council. The city will invest $43 million in rural infrastructure, up from a four-year annual average of $39.7 million. West Carleton can expect $10.7 million for infrastructure spending in Ward 5 (to see details of that spending, click here).

Not included in that previous story, or yesterday’s budget announcement, is an additional $1.341 million earmarked for Thomas A. Dolan Parkway between Dunrobin Road and the Sixth Line.

“That work was supposed to be scheduled for two or three years from now,” El-Chantiry said. “I pushed very hard for this. Now it’s going to be part of the 2020 budget. Hopefully they can also start the work in 2020. I’m very happy about that.”

While roads are a top issue in West Carleton, it’s not the only issue needing attention.

“We got quite a bit of money for roads,” El-Chantiry said. “What’s really exciting for me to see is the Corkery Community Centre expansion. When you talk about rural you can’t just talk about roads. It is the Number One issue, but there are other needs too.”

So is happy $2 million for the Corkery Community Centre, $1.8 million for the W. Erskine Johnston Arena, Carp Fire Station 64, March Central Community Centre, Pinhey’s Estate and the West Carleton Community Complex also made the budget.

But at some point, the city council will have to find savings for its residents.

“Door-to-door most candidates in the last election talked about roads, potholes, transportation, across the city, not just here,” El-Chantiry said. “All of them were talking about spending, not cost savings. Affordability in this city is becoming an issue. Most people aren’t getting a three per cent increase in wages this year. They’re lucky if they get one per cent. It is an issue.”

El-Chantiry says it costs city taxpayers about $300,000 to pave one kilometre of road and $160,000 per kilometre of surface treated roads. There are 823 kilometres of road in West Carleton.

“I would love to pave every road, but there’s only so much you can do,” he said. “We need to do things differently. Maintenance is the most expensive part – not even the building. That really is the challenge, but we are happy so see some roads getting done.”

Now that Budget 2020 is passed, the councillor is moving his focus to the next priorities. That includes the re-writing of the Official Plan and the Master Transportation Plan.

“At the same time, you have to talk about transportation and how you’re going to move people around,” El-Chantiry said.

Another topic near and dear to the councillor’s heart is the Rural Economic Development Strategy.

“We’ve spent a lot of money and a lot of staff time on that,” El-Chantiry said. “We’ve spoken to the community and to staff and we’re ready to go forward with the draft.”

El-Chantiry expects a draft will be ready early in the New Year.

Other highlights in budget 2020 include:

The budget includes a 7.7-per-cent increase to the winter operations budget, adding $5.6 million and bringing the total to $78.3 million.

For the second year in a row, the city will invest $15 million to create new affordable housing and maintain funding of $31 million for local agencies that offer housing and homelessness supports and services.

Investments in public transit include $2 million to increase Para Transpo services, $7.5 million for additional bus service, including 19 new buses, $43 million to replace old buses and a three-month transit fare freeze. The budget includes $9.6 million to support transit passes for lower income residents, freezing the cost of the EquiPass, Community Pass and Access Pass at 2019 rates for one year.

The budget commits Community Funding of $24.5 million for non-profit social service providers to help them deliver valuable services to residents facing the greatest need. To ensure the safety and well-being of residents, the budget funds 30 additional police officers and 14 additional paramedics.

The city will invest in the environment, including $17.5 million to rehabilitate the city’s wastewater treatment plant, $3 million to improve energy efficiency at City buildings, $3 million to rehabilitate water pumping stations and $2 million to enhance corrosion control at the two water purification plants.