It is my pleasure to provide some remarks as we table our first budget of the term.
To begin, I would like to thank Members of Council again for their insight and input into the budget process.
I appreciate you passing along your ward’s priorities on behalf of local families and businesses.
Few people know our communities’ needs better than our City Councillors, which is why your involvement is so important.
Based on our constructive conversations during the budget process, I am very optimistic about the next four years.
I am confident that we will be able to continue with a respectful, prudent, collaborative approach to managing our city’s finances.
As I said in last week’s State of the City address, 2015 will be a year of momentum.
Budget 2015 fits in perfectly with this reality, as we move forward swiftly and confidently on several ongoing initiatives.
At the same time, we will prepare Ottawa for continued success during our Term of Council.
Through the investments and savings we create in Budget 2015, we will continue the momentum towards a more affordable, caring, sustainable, and prosperous city.
Everything we do together must be done with the local economy in mind.
While we are not immune to the economic instability and challenges faced by all levels of government, we have taken strong, careful steps to weather the storm.
Over the past few years, Ottawa’s economic story could have gone a lot differently.
With our largest industry losing thousands of jobs... we chose to take action.
We invested in economic development and entrepreneurship to support the private sector in its work to create jobs.
We bolstered our tourism industry with award-winning strategies to help us “bid more, win more and host more.”
With traffic congestion on the horizon, we chose to change course by fast-tracking infrastructure projects with our “Ottawa on the Move” program.
We took advantage of the lowest interest rates in a generation to invest in roads, sidewalks, and other key infrastructure.
We got shovels in the ground for the Confederation Line, and unanimously approved a plan to extend LRT farther east, west and south.
After several years of instability and rate hikes, we brought in a more prudent approach to the city’s finances.
We brought in an affordable, predictable tax cap, bringing in the lowest increases in a number of years.
At the same time, we explored innovative ways to provide services through our “Service Ottawa” initiative, which found more than $40 million in annual efficiency cost savings.
We also established multi-year plans for key priorities such as arts and culture, and housing and homelessness, to ensure we have a clear direction.
We changed the way we looked at long-term infrastructure planning, by applying an affordability lens to our future projects.
Now we calculate WHAT we can afford, THEN plan the project... not the other way around.
The decisions and strategies I have just outlined have put Ottawa in the solid financial position it is in today.
These tested strategies will be used to strengthen every decision we make together as a Council.
Of course, we will continue to push ourselves even further.
We need to be even more innovative by finding efficiencies and striking partnerships.
We will need to collaborate at the community level by getting input into our work and helping to prioritize projects.
Together – as a team – I know we have the skill to accomplish this and keep Ottawa on strong financial footing.
That starts with Budget 2015.
Let’s begin by talking about how we will keep life affordable for residents.
Today, we are tabling a budget that proposes a 1.75% tax revenue increase.
This continues the multi-year trend of keeping life affordable, and translates into a 2% average increase for a residential property.
This rate will allow us to continue to invest in key priorities such as transportation, affordable housing, and community facilities.
It also requires no significant service cuts to achieve.
Now, some people out there may ask for us to spend more, to push the rate even higher.
Others will argue that we should freeze taxes and slash services.
I think we’ve struck the right balance.
Because we know that there are many living close to the line…
Those who may have unstable or no employment, for whom raising taxes significantly could mean the difference between affording their next mortgage payment or affording food for their kids.
We must also not abandon those same folks on the services side, by cutting the core programs and services on which they depend.
This is a reasonable budget that respects taxpayers’ ability to pay, while maintaining high-quality public services.
The budget also proposes to limit the average OC Transpo fare increase to just 2.5 per cent.
As you know, this in line with our multi-year affordability plan to pay for investments like the Confederation Line, O-Train expansion, and other improvements.
This will also allow us to invest an additional $4.2 million for increased bus service, and trips on ParaTranspo and the O-Train Trillium Line.
In 2013, we reduced the garbage collection fee by 11%.
It has been frozen since then.
Budget 2015 recommends we continue that freeze for a third consecutive year.
Furthermore, after freezing recreation fees for the past four years, users will now see fee increases capped at an average of 2%.
This is a prudent way to move forward.
This is to ensure we can continue to provide high-quality programming, while absorbing inflationary costs and other operational pressures such as new facilities in the east, west and south.
Budget 2015 will see us continuing to manage our debt level responsibly.
We will protect our excellent credit ratings of Triple-A from Moody’s and Double-A-plus from Standard and Poor.
Ottawa continues to have an excellent credit rating... a manageable debt level well within the established limits... and will continue to have one of the lowest debts per capita among major Canadian cities.
There’s nothing more important to our local economy than the strength of our infrastructure.
Our prosperity depends on it.
When Ottawa’s moving, our economy is moving.
Over the last three years, our “Ottawa on the Move” program saw over 400 infrastructure projects completed in all areas of the city.
And it would be hard to ignore how significant this investment was, as we advanced many years worth of renewal work than previously planned.
Many, many streets were reconstructed that had been ignored for far too long.
This included significant sewer and water main work.
In several cases, we closed major gaps in our pedestrian and cycling networks.
We undertook this $500-million investment to ensure there was less road work to do during the height of Confederation Line construction in 2015 and 2016.
As you know, we will not be able to continue with the same intensity or level of spending over this Term of Council.
It would be logistically and financially challenging to do so.
However, we will continue to invest what we can to maintain our roads, pathways, sidewalks, and sewers.
Let me give you a few examples.
In the west end, Ottawa on the Move funded road work on Woodroffe Avenue, Baseline Road, Huntmar, and West Hunt Club Road.
Budget 2015 will build on these investments increasing our network capacity to address growth such as a new four-lane extension of Campeau Drive to Huntmar.
The City will also break ground on the Hospital Link which will help to relieve some of the congestion on Smyth Road and Alta Vista Drive.
Critical renewal projects remain a priority such as the reconstruction of Banning Road and Anderson Bridge.
As well, we will continue to make key intersection enhancements to improve efficiency as well improving safety and connectivity.
This will be seen through works such as the urbanization and implementation of a multi-use pathway on a small orphaned stretch of Klondike Road.
We will also move forward with culvert and sewer improvements for Shea Road Flowing Creek, the Kanata West Pump Station and the Fernbank Sanitary Sewer.
The Western Transitway expansion will also go forward as planned in 2015.
We will continue our investments toward the completion of the $65 million Bayshore to Moodie transitway, a project that is 100% municipally funded.
This project will significantly improve bus service from Kanata by providing a new segregated Transitway alongside a stretch of the 417 where buses are currently inter-mingled with car traffic.
In the central core, Ottawa on the Move saw much-needed infrastructure work such as Churchill, Bronson, Carling, and St. Patrick.
This is an area of the city with some of our oldest infrastructure… in fact, the pipes replaced under Bronson Avenue were about 160 years old.
The City also made permanent the Laurier Avenue segregated bike lanes and built the east-west bikeway, linking Beechwood with Westboro.
Budget 2015 proposes that we proceed with the full integrated renewal of Main Street as a complete street.
It will also invest in the renewal of the Minto Bridges, McRae Avenue, McIlraith Bridge, and McLeod Street, just to name a few.
The central core is also due for recreation and community centre improvements in 2015.
We’ll move forward with repairs at the Don Gamble Recreation Complex, the Jim Durrell Recreation Complex, Brewer Arena, Canterbury Pool, the Michelle Heights Community Centre, and the Dempsey Community Centre.
Budget 2015 also proposes we continue to provide better cycling and pedestrian facilities in the core.
Budget 2015 will begin funding the public realm of the Rideau Street Art Precinct with the conversion of Nicholas between Besserer and Rideau into a pedestrian street.
It will also include early works toward making Rideau Street a more attractive, vibrant, and people-friendly environment in advance of the opening of LRT.
This month, we will open the new pedestrian bridge over Highway 417 near Coventry Road.
And we will also continue to build the Somerset-Donald pedestrian and cycling bridge over the Rideau River for completion next year.
In the east end, Ottawa on the Move funded renewal projects such as Jeanne D’Arc, Ogilvie Road, and Stonehenge Road.
In addition, work continues on the Orleans Watermain Link to bring new source of drinking water to improve service reliability to this east end community.
This project is expected to be completed later this year.
With the support of our provincial partners, we also undertook the much-needed Highway 417 expansion project, to fix the Split.
In the short term, this will provide an alternate Transitway corridor as we move to the next phase of construction for Confederation Line.
In the draft budget you have before you, it is proposed that the City continue this momentum by building a new two lane extension of Brian Coburn Boulevard between Navan and Mer Bleue.
We will also renew key bridges and overpasses such as Carlsbad Lane, Sand Road, and Birchgrove Beckett’s Creek.
As you know, recent years saw significant east-end recreation centres improvements open including Richcraft Sensplex East and the Francois Dupuis Pool.
Looking ahead, Budget 2015 proposes that we invest in upgrading key community assets such as the Ray Friel Recreation Centre, Pierre Rocque Park, the Avalon South Recreational Pathway, Park 18a in Cardinal Creek, and Cassandra Park.
In our south end, we recently saw the opening of the Vimy Memorial Bridge and the Airport Parkway Bridge.
Residents have already told us that these linkages have greatly improved mobility.
Ottawa on the Move also provided south-enders with renewal of road infrastructure on Albion Road and Fisher Avenue, as well as the expansion Jockvale Road.
Budget 2015 will see us complete the renewal of the Prince of Wales overpass at Nepean Creek, the Mansfield Road Bridge, and the Parkway Road Bridge over Castor.
On the recreation front, we’ll replace the artificial turf at Minto Field, and complete maintenance at facilities such as the Richmond Arena, the Nepean Sportsplex, and the Pinecrest Recreation Complex.
On a city-wide basis, Budget 2015 will also continue to build momentum with several significant infrastructure projects that will improve our city for generations to come.
Let me talk about a few.
Firstly, we will continue to make progress on the final phase of the Ottawa River Action Plan this year.
This has been our top environmental priority for quite some time and I’m very pleased that we were able to secure provincial funding last year.
We’ll also continue momentum with light rail transit in the nation’s capital.
Budget 2015 will allow us to continue construction of the Confederation Line, and continue to refine our plans to advance Stage 2 of LRT.
Last week was a very proud moment, when we unveiled a model of the Alstom Citadis Spirit train that will run on the Confederation Line.
More than 1,000 people visited the train over the course of last weekend, and they had their first tangible interaction with this exciting project.
Many people are saying, “This is finally for real!”
The LRT Showcase is an important way that residents can get a better understanding of the project, especially as we manage the challenges associated with construction in the coming year.
We will begin to prepare for the completion of the project with the finishing of the Maintenance and Storage Facility so that the assembly of our vehicles can begin.
We will also start initial work on the operations side of the Confederation Line, including practical investments for fare control and the control centre.
We will also break ground on two Ottawa 2017 legacy projects: the Innovation Centre at Bayview and the revitalized Arts Court.
Each of these will have a unique role to play in helping Ottawa remain competitive and dynamic in the years to come.
These will be city-wide assets that will bring people together to celebrate, create and innovate.
As we continue to build this world-class city, we will continue to focus our efforts on the human side of the services we provide.
That begins with looking after our most vulnerable.
Budget 2015 proposes that the City of Ottawa continue its base budget commitment of $14 million annually that began in the last term.
The draft budget also proposes an investment of $3.1 million annually for maintenance for Ottawa Community Housing.
In addition, Council will also consider a capital investment of $19 million for affordable housing.
We need to take care of our housing stock, and this will help us continue to that.
We will also invest more money to help with the challenges we are facing with guns and gangs in our city.
It is important to remember that Ottawa is a safe city.
And that the Ottawa Police Service has our full support in the work it is doing on this file.
Through our conversations with the Police, Crime Prevention Ottawa, and their network of community partners... we identified a funding gap that needs to be addressed.
Too many at-risk individuals, at different stages of involvement in gang activity, do so because they feel they simply have no other option.
We need to help them open their eyes to those options.
Budget 2015 allocates $400,000 annually to fund a combination of exit strategies and employment opportunities for at-risk individuals.
We will not solve this complicated social problem in just a year.
But it is our hope, that with these funds, we can continue to move in the right direction.
In 2015, we must also continue to rebuild our tree cover that has been ravaged by the Emerald Ash Borer.
To this end, the draft budget proposes we invest $5.6 million in forestry efforts this year, including an additional $125,000 for tree planting.
The budget investments I’ve outlined so far are just the beginning of how we will improve the lives of Ottawa residents over the coming year.
There will be another opportunity – through our Strategic Initiatives process later this spring – to make additional investments in our communities.
As you know, our budget process is a little different following an election.
Because of this, the timeframes for budget delivery change from fall to the New Year.
Because of this, we have not yet had the important opportunity to talk about our Term of Council priorities.
We will do this over the coming months.
As a first step, Budget 2015 proposes a funding envelope of $37.4 million, combined operating and capital, for Strategic Initiatives.
Later this spring, as Council approves its Term of Council priorities, we will decide where this money is allocated.
It is my expectation that some of these funds will also be used for continued priorities such as:
- Improved recreational services, including greater support for our hard-working volunteer rink operators
- Invest Ottawa and supporting our local start-ups
- Housing and homelessness
- Ward-based road safety; and
- Better pedestrian and cycling connectivity, particularly in our suburban communities.
Just to name a few.
If you do not see a project or a priority funded in this draft budget, it is my hope to work with you to see it realized either in the Strategic Initiatives, a future budget, or by another source.
As you know, the successes we see in our budgets could not be accomplished without our City Manager and his management team.
With their knowledge of the day-to-day affairs of the City, we are able to find savings without impacting service levels.
For example, the City of Ottawa has been able to reduce its headcount of full-time equivalents in every budget for the last three years, for a net total of approximately 200 FTEs.
This has been managed despite the fact that we’re still a growing city
This year is no different, as Budget 2015 proposes to reduce the FTE count by an additional 20.
During the coming year, the City Manager and his team will be undertaking an important management effort to look ahead at 2016 and beyond.
I mentioned earlier that we saw significant savings from our ServiceOttawa program in recent years – to the tune of $40 million per year.
These savings in turn created capacity to fund inflationary cost increases, the costs of growth, and the Term of Council priorities.
Now that this program has realized its efficiencies, City management needs to refocus their efforts on longer term planning to ensure we remain financially sustainable.
We must look beyond the immediate 12-month window of traditional budgeting and model our decision-making in a multi-year approach.
City Council will continue to enact a budget every year.
However, management will need to look at a multi-year perspective.
This will help identify savings needed to fund priorities, keep taxes under control, fund growth, and meet inflationary pressures.
The City Manager will provide more details following my remarks.
Colleagues, thank you again for your contributions to this budget.
I’m confident that Budget 2015 strikes the right balance.
It raises revenues in a responsible way, while maintaining the services and investments required to build on our city’s momentum.
Thank you... and now over to our City Manager and the Treasurer for their remarks.