Councillors thwart mayor’s budget plans

In an audacious move that is a considerable setback for Mayor Larry O’Brien’s avowed goal of a balancing the city’s books, a coalition of 15 city councillors Wednesday cut short any more debate on the city budget and passed a document that calls for a 4.9-per-cent property tax increase and few programs funding cuts.

Councillors, including Somerset Coun. Diane Holmes, opted for a 4.9-per-cent property tax increase instead of cutting funding to programs, over the objections of O’Brien and his council supporters.

Further debate over the budget was planned for the next few days and O’Brien expressed disappointment that it was cut short.   

O’Brien was prepared to cut programs in order to prevent taxes from rising, a promise he made to the Ottawa residents in 2006 during his mayoral campaign.

Slashes proposed by city staff and largely targeted social and cultural programs. Last week, public consultation at city hall saw hundreds of people opposing the cuts.   

The coalition of councillors that balked at the mayor’s budget vision ranged across the political spectrum was led by College Ward Coun. Rick Chiarelli.

Bay  Coun. Alex Cullen said the budget reflects what the people want – services such as “bus routes, cultural programs, outdoor rinks, and childcare spaces.”

However, councillors deferred costly items such as program updates, postpone the organics recycling program until 2010, and reduce spending on infrastructure renewal for a combined savings of $17.5 million.  

They also increased some user fees to generate $2.3 million in revenue.  

Property tax increases will go toward increased spending on Ottawa police services ($5 million), city operations ($33 million) and city infrastructure including roads, sewers and bridges ($11 million).