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Ottawa city council votes 20-5 to approve $5.8B budget for 2024

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Ottawa city councillors and the mayor have voted 20 to 5 on the $5.8-billion spending plan for the city next year, which includes a 2.5 per cent increase to property taxes, a 2.5 per cent fare hike, and a 2.5 per cent increase to the Ottawa Police Service budget.

"This budget moves us toward a safe, more reliable, more affordable city for everyone and it carefully positions us both financially and strategically for the important city-building discussions we will have in the next year," Mayor Mark Sutcliffe said in his opening remarks Wednesday.

Sutcliffe, however, stressed that the city is facing several budgetary pressures and challenges, but said that he did not want to add impose taxes on residents. Instead, he called on support from other levels of government.

"This budget process wasn't easy. Municipalities are facing unprecedented pressures right now and we don't have the resources to tackle them alone. Ottawa, in particular, is facing challenges that are unique and specific to us, including the impact of changes to our downtown," he said. "As I've said many times, we must have help from our federal and provincial partners. We must have our fair share. We must get help that is specific to Ottawa. To our needs. There simply is no other way."

The average urban homeowner can expect their 2024 property tax bill to be $105 higher than it was in 2023.

While most elements of the budget were passed unanimously, the Ottawa Police Services budget and the transit budget faced recorded votes. Coun. Stéphanie Plante dissented on the Ottawa Board of Health budget.

Voting against the overall budget were councillors Jessica Bradley, Jeff Leiper, Sean Devine, Shawn Menard and Matthew Luloff.

Ottawa Police Chief Eric Stubbs took questions from councillors for more than an hour about concerns of resources, police presence, and crime rates.

Councillors voted 17 to 8 to approve the 2024 Ottawa Police Service budget. The police service budget includes a $13.4 million increase in funding over 2023. 

Councillors passed the budget for the Community Services Committee unanimously, with two motions presented by Coun. Theresa Kavanagh and Coun. Shawn Menard to spend $21,000 to rent 24 portable toilets, one for each ward, and $44,000 to extend operating hours for some wading pools in the summer.

A motion by Coun. Theresa Kavanagh to draw on $6.2 million from reserves to add to the affordable housing budget, bringing it to $30 million in 2024, was passed, along with the Planning and Housing Committee budget.

Transit fares became a point of contention at the meeting. Capital Ward Coun. Shawn Menard proposing a fare freeze for 2024, paid for by adding an extra 1 per cent to the transit levy.

The motion presented to council was put forward by Coun. Jessica Bradley, seconded by Coun. Jeff Leiper.

Fares were already frozen in the 2023 budget and the 2024 draft budget includes a freeze to the EquiPass and community pass, but city staff recommend an increase to the regular fare, sending the cost of an adult monthly transit pass to $128.75, up $3.25. 

Menard suggests freezing fares for a second straight year would help increase ridership. Kitchissippi Ward Coun. Jeff Leiper says an extra 1 per cent on the transit levy would cost the average homeowner an extra $8 next year.

However, Coun. Glen Gower, chair of the Transit Commission, pointed out that OC Transpo is already heavily funded by taxpayers. The transit service has a target of funding operations 55 per cent through fares and 45 per cent through the transit levy, but it is presently funded 31 per cent through fare revenue and 69 per cent through taxes.

Councillors voted down the Bradley motion, 15 nays to 10 yeas. The transit budget passed by a vote of 17 yeas to 8 nays.

The 2024 draft budget includes $4.6 billion in operating expenses and $1.2 billion in capital spending. It will be funded by tax increases and hikes to fees and service charges large and small across the city.

The budget includes $214 million towards housing and more than $900 million in infrastructure spending, such as more than $140 million in road repairs and bridge rehabilitation, and $14 million for new multi-use pathways. Other spending includes $21.8 million for affordable housing, $62 million in parks and building investments, $16 million in community safety investments.

The budget meeting is the final council meeting of 2023. The first meeting of the new year will be held on Jan. 10.

--With files from CTV News Ottawa's Josh Pringle.

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