Councillors backtrack on parking proposals

City council has approved the 2008 budget, which backtracks on some controversial plans to increase parking revenue and approves a raise to property taxes by 4.9 per cent.

Council's decision in December to expand the hours and areas where parking fees would be collected met protests from citizens, councillors and local businesses. Council heeded this resistance March 27, as it finalized the budget and decided not to expand paid-parking times to evenings after 5:30 p.m. and Sundays.

The budget also refused the majority of plans to expand on-street paid parking into new areas, with some exceptions – new parking meters will be employed on Rideau Street, Booth Street, Rochester Street, and Norman Street, Daniel McCann Street, Centrepointe Drive and Constellation Crescent.

These ideas followed consultations with downtown business representatives who had opposed the original parking initiatives.

A report on other parking revenue alterations, such as implementing "Pay & Display" technology and expanding into other areas, will be considered by the transportation committee April 16.

The budget approves a 4.9-per-cent property tax hike after considering raising taxes as much as 7.7 per cent in light of a report from the city treasurer.

Somerset Ward Coun. Diane Holmes said she is not surprised the city is in this difficult situation.

"It’s come home to roost," said Holmes. "We have tried very hard to keep the taxes down to zero. Unlike every other city in Ontario that has done an inflationary increase, we have not, and then eventually you can’t do it anymore. We have taken money out of reserves in order to keep the taxes down, but in the long run that is not a good idea."

Council faced a stark reality of a shortfall in parking revenue, unexpectedly large snow removal costs and slightly higher than expected cost of diesel.

City treasurer Marian Simulik said earlier that a 7.7-per-cent tax hike, which translates to an additional average of $195 per household, would be needed to cover the shortfall.

Instead, councillors decided to move forward with the budget while using money the province had allocated for road repairs, funds expected in 2009 from the sale of Telecom Ottawa and reserve funds as needed.

The original parking revenue proposals, presented in December, were expected to create $4.2 million in revenue. Council decided in February to raise rates by $0.50, which is expected to create $595,000, according to Simulik.

Holmes said she would have preferred a small tax hike and a city-wide strategy for parking rather than raising revenues with downtown meters.

"I think it is very unfair that the city would put this kind of burden on the downtown businesses, residents and churches in order to balance the budget. Parking is not there as a cash cow, it is there to provide turnover to support businesses."