Post-budget focus on small business

WEST CARLETON – Ottawa council passed the 2021 budget yesterday (Dec. 9) and Coun. Eli El-Chantiry says now its time to focus on helping Ottawa’s small businesses as much as possible.

During yesterday’s City of Ottawa council meeting municipally elected politicians approved a $3.9 billion budget for the 2021 year that will mean a three per cent increase, or roughly $115 more for the urban homeowner and $88 more for the rural homeowner. Water bills are going up $37 per year for those connected to city water and those not connected will pay an additional $7 on their stormwater fee.

None of these numbers are new and have been reported for weeks through the budget 2021 draft process. West Carleton Online also reported on Nov. 10 some of the $11 million in major projects earmarked for West Carleton in the 2021 budget.

“Now it’s confirmed,” Coun. Eli El-Chantiry told West Carleton Online today (Dec. 10).

While the budget is passed, one major issue still remains for council – it hasn’t dealt with the $152 million deficit related to COVID-19 expenses.

“We know the city is in financial difficulty,” El-Chantiry said. “Now the heavy lifting begins. We balanced the budget, but we didn’t find a solution for that shortfall.”

El-Chantiry says the city is still hoping, and lobbying, to have that deficit dealt with through the help of the other two levels of government.

The three per cent increase is one per cent higher than the usual two per cent Mayor Jim Watson has insisted on in much of his tenure. It comes at a time when businesses have been struggling under the massive pressure COVID-19 and mandated closures and restrictions have put upon them.

El-Chantiry says the city is more than aware.

“I can tell you, whether you are a newspaper, restaurants, shops, we know we’re going to lose some,” he said. “But we’re doing everything we can to support those local businesses. We can see the light at the end of the tunnel with the vaccine coming. We have to hold on to every small business we can and do whatever we can to support them.”

El-Chantiry says a city-led awareness campaign and tax deferrals offer some support.

“There is some support, but to reach that support, it takes a long time,” El-Chantiry said. “I keep saying this, the city of Ottawa is listening, we do have a tool kit. In West Carleton, it’s a large area, but the businesses are small. We just lost a newspaper but some people are doing well. The landscaping businesses are doing well. Renovations, our hardware stores, they’re having a record year.”

El-Chantiry says engagement in the draft budget process was slightly higher this year. Perhaps the advantage of public budget meetings being held virtually so residents could participate from the comfort of their own homes.

El-Chantiry hosted a Ward 5 budget 2021 virtual consultation on Oct. 29 that peaked round 15 attendees. While that sounds small, and was a smaller turnout than the Huntley Community Association annual general meeting held that same night, the meeting had a better turnout than the 2018 and 2019 Ward 5 draft budget consultations held in-person at the Kinburn Community Centre.

“We are seeing increased engagement,” El-Chantiry said. “A lot of people want more, but we need to match that with decreases in other areas. Roads? We know we need more funding, but we have a very long list.”

In the end, El-Chantiry is happy with the way the 2021 budget process went, despite the increased challenges created by the pandemic.

“I’m happy with the way it rolled out, he said. “But if anyone has an idea, how we can help small businesses, please share it with me. We’re open to it. We know there’s going to be an impact. Businesses across Ontario are shutting down. We’re managing out here, but that will be the biggest challenge coming out of Christmas. That is traditionally a slow time for businesses in the best of years.”

City-wide budget highlights

For the third year in a row, the budget commits $15 million to develop new affordable and supportive housing units. With an additional $32 million in federal funding, the City will invest $47 million in capital funding for affordable housing. This is in addition to $112 million in support of housing needs, which includes $33 million for community-based housing and homelessness programs and supports.

Budget 2021 includes funding for 14 new paramedics, to better serve Ottawa’s growing population and address increasing emergency call volumes, along with $25.2 million in community funding for agencies that help residents with the greatest need.

Investments and work on Stage 2 of Ottawa’s LRT system continue. Once Stage 2 is complete, 77 per cent of residents will live within five kilometres of LRT. The cost of the EquiPass and the Community Pass for Ontario Disability Support Program recipients will remain frozen at 2018 rates for another year.

The budget also increases funding to maintain and renew infrastructure like roads, sidewalks and facilities by $25 million, for a total investment of $171 million. With increased support for infrastructure maintenance, the City will close the infrastructure gap – the difference between what the City spends and what it needs to spend annually to maintain infrastructure in good repair – in seven years, rather than 10 years. With an additional $19 million in one-time federal gas tax funding, that’s a total investment of $171 million for infrastructure in 2021.

To reduce greenhouse gas emissions, Budget 2021 invests $3 million to retrofit City facilities to reduce energy use and costs, with a net payback of $365,000 a year expected in eight years. An additional $18.7 million will help protect air and land at the Trail Waste Facility, $2 million to conserve natural lands in rural areas and $1.5 million to plant trees and regenerate Ottawa’s tree canopy. These investments complement the $2.6 million that Council committed in October to Energy Evolution projects.