Column: Budget Process and OC Transpo Network Optimization

Upon the passing of the 2011 City of Ottawa Budget at the March 8 special meeting of City Council, I put forward a motion, seconded by Councillor Stephen Blais, that requested the City Treasurer to look at the feasibility of multi-year budgeting here in Ottawa. This report is to be delivered to the Governance Renewal Sub-Committee, of which I am a member alongside Rick Chiarelli, Allan Hubley, Katherine Hobbs, and Mayor Jim Watson. Currently, the City of Ottawa conducts an annual budget process while other cities across North America and around the world have begun adopting a multi-year approach to their budgets. Some have questioned why I proposed such a motion and where the idea came from. I figured I would take this time to shed some light on something that I first spoke of during the election campaign this past fall.

As a two-time candidate for Council, I had done some research on our budget process to better prepare for the job I was seeking to attain. Through this research I came across the City of Calgary’s budget process. Calgary operates under a 3-year budget process and is currently in the midst of producing their third budget since 2005. This year, they will approve a budget for the years 2012-2014, with an annual refresh that looks at any issues that need to be addressed within the already approved budget. My thought on this was, why do they do it this way and we do it annually? Further research found that both Calgary and Lethbridge operate under a three-year budget and the more popular two-year budget process has been adopted by many cities and counties throughout North America as well as 18 states. The common thought became “do we need to reinvent the wheel every year, or just add spokes to make it roll easier?”

The City of Ottawa has the country’s most reliable income and 54% of its revenue comes from property taxes. User fees and Government grants account for the majority of the balance meaning our revenues can be very accurately predicted in the short term. Property taxes from 2007-2010 were not as predictable, ranging from 0.3% to a high of 4.9%. A multi-year budget process allows for more consistency in what you can expect to pay in successive years.

Feedback from multi-year budgeting has shown that staff time is greatly reduced on an annual basis as the annual budget process can be very lengthy. This would result in reduced overtime and less over worked staff leading to higher productivity. There was improved accounting for salaries and benefits for employees, which is important when you are faced with one time changes in pension rates. The most important difference is the timeline of the process. Currently, we pass the budget after the fiscal year has already begun and feedback from other cities has shown that the multi-year budget is passed prior to the fiscal year beginning. This will allow for time at Council and Committee, meaning less jammed agendas and more time for public consultation. Citizens felt better informed and had increased budget participation. However, what works in one city does not always mean it works for another city. Therefore, I look forward to the report from the City Treasurer to see how this could be implemented in Ottawa or if the status quo is the best option for us.

March 29th Registration for Nursery School
Prepare your child for Kindergarten! Manotick/Riverside South Co-operative Nursery School is holding their General Registration Night for the 2011/2012 year on Tuesday, March 29th at the Manotick Arena, 7-8pm. Visit their Web site for more information and program offerings.

OC Transpo Network Optimization
OC Transpo needs your feedback into proposed service changes to support Budget 2011. They have presented a network optimization proposal that aims to make routes more direct, productive, and reliable, while ensuring that fares are kept down and that Ottawa’s transit system remains sustainable in the long term.

Whereas the community input into Richmond/Munster’s Rural Express 283 is ongoing, public consultations on the network as whole are scheduled at city-wide locations between March 29 and April 5. These public Open Houses will take place on:

Tuesday, March 29 -  5:30-7:30pm at Ottawa City Hall
Wednesday, March 30 - 7-9pm at Kanata Recreation Complex, Hall B
Thursday, March 31 - 7-9pm at Nepean Sportsplex, Halls C & D
Monday, April 4 - 7-9pm at Jim Durrell Recreation Complex, Ellwood Hall
Tuesday, April 5 - 7-9pm at Shenkman Arts Centre, Music Rehearsal Hall

All approved changes will go into effect in September.

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As always, if you have any questions, comments, or concerns please email me at Scott.Moffatt@ottawa.ca or call me at 613-580-2491. Don’t forget to also visit me onFacebook and follow me on Twitter. The best way to keep up to date and informed on all issues is by visiting RideauGoulbourn.ca as this site is updated daily.

If you would like to make an appointment to see me in the Ward offices – either North Gower or Goulbourn, please call ahead to make an appointment.
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