Draft budget 2019 – What does it mean for Ottawa’s environment?

On Wednesday, February 6 Mayor Jim Watson presented a draft city budget for 2019.

This budget has implications for all three of Ecology Ottawa’s program areas:

  • Living City, our program to protect and enhance Ottawa’s trees, water and green space;
  • Renewable City, our program on climate change and energy policy; and
  • Active City, our program on sustainable transportation.

Below is a summary of key line items impacting each program area, followed by an assessment. Note that these assessments are preliminary. Over the next few weeks, Ecology Ottawa staff and volunteers will be asking questions to councillors and city staff in order to clarify the points below. We will publish a final assessment of the budget once the final version is adopted on March 6.

In the area of Living City, draft budget 2019 includes:

  • $1.5 million to plant 500,000 trees. This is a standard line item that we’ve seen in past budgets. We are happy to see the city continue to invest in forest cover.
  • No money earmarked for the expansion of green infrastructure. We have been asking for the city to move beyond the pilot phase and roll out green infrastructure at scale. We could not identify a stand-alone item on green infrastructure in the city budget.
  • Unanswered questions regarding funding of Urban Forest Management Plan. The City has worked hard to develop a comprehensive Urban Forest Management Plan. We applauded the City for its ambitious and well-designed plan. However, this plan requires funding to deliver on its action items. We could not identify funding in the budget.
  • Unanswered questions regarding funding regarding the purchase of natural areas. In past years, the city has spent over $800,000 on the purchase of natural areas for preservation. We could not identify a stand-alone item on natural areas protection in this year’s budget.

In the area of Renewable City, draft budget 2019 includes:

  • $150,000 for Energy Evolution. This is below last year’s total of $500,000. City documentation indicates that this money is going towards planning and implementation for Energy Evolution. It is unclear whether this amount is sufficient to implement all of the phase 1 action items as well to initiate key items from phase 2.
  • No mention of electric vehicle infrastructure investments. While we would expect electric vehicle infrastructure to be captured across a number of line items, we see no dedicated city funds intended to support and reinforce the growing update of electric vehicles city-wide.
  • No mention of a climate resilience plan. We remain optimistic that this city council will develop and implement a climate resilience plan. Unfortunately, there is no funding for work to be undertaken towards this plan in 2019.
  • $2 million increase to city energy efficiency and conservation retrofits and updating building automation systems at City-owned facilities. This is excellent news, and brings the total for the city’s investment in this area up to $3 million in 2019. These projects are meaningful investments that will in many cases save the city money.  
  • Unclear status of “Green Fleetline item. In past budgets, the city devoted $500,000 to converting its fleet to lower- or zero-emissions. We were unable to identify the “green fleet” line item for the 2019 budget, and are concerned that this program has been cancelled.

In the area of Active City, draft budget 2019 includes:

  • Almost $90 million to “enhance transit operations.” This money is mostly going towards the replacement of old buses and refurbishment of existing buses. A smaller portion ($7.8 million) will go towards the purchase of 12 new buses and expanded bus service. We are pleased to see investment in transit. However, Ottawa must be much more ambitious in its transit spending if it seeks to drastically curb emissions from transportation. Further, it is unclear whether the 12 new buses will be electric.
  • Continuing EquiPass transit fare program for low-income residents. We are pleased to see the city continue to invest in this area.
  • Rate increase for EquiPass, adult monthly pass and single-ride fares. This budget will see the EquiPass increase by 2.6%, the adult monthly pass increase by 2.6% and single-ride fares increase by 2.9%. These rate increases are well above the rate of inflation (approx. 1.7%). This is disappointing; the city should be freezing or reducing fares rather than raising them.
  • Parking rates remain frozen. While transit rates continue to increase, on-street and off-street hourly parking rates remain flat in this year’s budget. Facilitating the use of vehicles continues to inhibit the city’s progress on encouraging the shift to more sustainable modes of transportation.
  • $7.1 million for the Cycling and Pedestrian Plans. This is a steep decline relative to average annual funding over the last term of council. Over the 2015-2018 period, for example, the City spent an average of over $20 million per year in this area.
  • $22.9 million to widen Strandherd Dr. Ottawa’s continued expansion of its road network creates serious challenges for future budgets, in terms of maintenance, clearing, and managing induced demand from additional vehicles. There is no evidence that widening roads alleviates congestion. It is unclear as to the city’s rationale for this massive investment, and it is clear that the money could be better used elsewhere (e.g., transit, pedestrian infrastructure and/or cycling infrastructure). 
  • $1.6 million committed to the Temporary Traffic Calming Measure Program, with each councillor receiving $50,000 for initiatives in their respective wards. This is a slight increase from the previous councillor allocation of $40,000. This is a positive change.
  • $500,000 in the Pedestrian Crossover Program. We are pleased to see the city investing in this area. This appears to be a new standalone line item.
  • Vision Zero. We remain optimistic that this city council will develop and implement a Vision Zero strategy to eliminate death and severe injury on Ottawa’s streets. While there is no specific line item for this policy initiative, it could be implemented through other line items. We will seek to clarify this.

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