2% tax hike, low income transit pass part of Ottawa draft budget

The City's draft budget was tabled on Wednesday morning, and as expected it keeps property taxes under the promised 2 per cent cap.

Under the draft spending plan for 2017, the average urban residential homeowner will pay $72 more in taxes, while the average rural homeowner would pay $60 more.

While the property tax increase was expected, there were a few surprises in the budget.

Mayor Jim Watson announced the City will create a low-income transit pass, which will cost the City $2.2 million each year.

The "EquiPass" will cost $57 a month, a significant discount from the regular $113.75 monthly pass. However the pass is still more expensive than a pass costing $41.75, which advocates had requested.

"This is what we could afford at this time," says Watson. "If the province brings forward additional funding we could lower that rate at that time."

The draft budget also included a large injection of funding for social service agencies, who have complained they are stretched thin.

Backed by Councillor Diane Deans, social service agencies were asking for $500,000 to meet increasing demands. Instead they were surprised by Wednesday's budget, which proposes a boost of $610,000 in funding.

"I think it is a testament to work by a lot of people over several years ... coming to every committee meeting and saying this is important," says Heather Stecher of Making Voices Count. "Finally they couldn't ignore our voices."

The City manager says this year's job cuts at City Hall helped fund a balanced budget for next year.

It was a black day for nearly 200 city hall employees after two rounds of layoffs in July and October of this year.  But those cuts helped put the budget in the black, resulting in $18.4 million dollars in savings.

"We've taken those dollars out of the budget and that's how we were able to meet the target that was set by council," says Ottawa city manager Steve Kanellakos.  "And we did better than we thought."

The final budget goes to council Dec. 14.