Monday, March 1, 2004

City of Ottawa Budget - 2004

Presentation of the Community Council of Overbrook to the Economic Development and Corporate Services Committee of Ottawa City Council

Scheduled for 12:05 PM Monday, March 1, 2004 Andrew S. Haydon Hall – City Hall

Good afternoon. My name is Leonard Poole and I am speaking on behalf of the Community Council of Overbrook.

We understand that our municipal tax system is a multi-headed monster that needs to be brought under control. We realize that it creates incredible distortions, often pitting taxpayers, and tax classes against each other. We strongly urge the city and province to work together immediately to develop a more equitable tax system. However, I only have five minutes, not the five hours needed to dissect that beast further, so I will leave it for now.

Today I intend to focus on one topic, that of Fiscal Responsibility. We believe that taxes can be kept at their lowest level when Ottawa City Council demonstrates Fiscal Responsibility. It is our belief, however, that this budget is Fiscally Irresponsible.

How could that be, you might ask? It proposes no tax increases, and keeps our costs down! What it comes down to, essentially, is how you define “Fiscal Responsibility”. For some of us, and perhaps some members of this committee, it means spending the least amount of money, every year, and do whatever it takes to avoid a tax increase. In our view, it means spending the correct amount of money today to ensure that in the long term we spend the least amount of money. This budget is irresponsible because it focuses on short-term gain as opposed to long-term payback.

To pick one example, out of many available, cutting funding to outdoor rinks is a fast way to put almost half a million dollars to the bottom line, and a few cents in each taxpayer's pocket, in the short term. However, the effect of the withdrawal of that investment is that our citizens, particularly our youth will have reduced opportunity for physical exercise and positive social behaviour. We need to understand that those groups of ten or twenty teenagers who were playing a game of shinny, for a couple of hours on a Tuesday night, are now going to be looking for other things to do. This situation will be multiplied at every rink in every community across the city every night during the winter. If these rinks curtail one swarming, or one stolen car joyride, they are worth it. I expect they curtail much more. It is much more expensive to control and police such behaviour after the fact. One high-speed joyride easily leads to incalculable costs. It is not difficult to see that cutting half a million dollars in rink expense can quickly lead to a substantial increase in police expense. And that expense will multiply every year. This is but one example. A cut in one area, will have an effect in another area. You reduce buses, you increase the use of cars, which increases the cost of road repair, you reduce senior home visits, you increase senior's isolation and the strain on our health care system. Whenever you view a cut, you have to consider what other costs will increase.

So often we hear that we have to cut the frills. There are a number of people, including members of this committee, who believe that this budget proposal is an exercise in cutting those “frills”. On one level, they are correct. Be it swimming pools, rinks, flu shots, crisis intervention, festivals, planting flowers, sweeping our streets, funding OCRI, or libraries, our lives will go on without them. And if we go through with these cuts, every taxpayer, this year, will have extra money in his or her pocket. But if you are prepared to pass this budget as it currently stands, you also must face the reality of the effects of these cuts. And the reality is that they will lead to substantial increased costs and reduced revenue in the years to come. Eliminating funding to arts and culture will reduce tourism. Eliminating recreation services will increase policing costs in future. Reducing funding to transit will increase the cost of road repair, as more cars hit the street. Therefore, when you, as a politician, stand up and shout out how you “saved” the average taxpayer money this year, also have the courage to accept responsibility for substantially increased costs in the years to come.

This budget is fiscally irresponsible, in that it focuses on a short-term payment to its shareholders, as opposed to keeping its eye on the long-term vision of prudent management. This budget represents the ESE view of economics, otherwise known as the Enron School of Economics. That mythical school tells us to keep the shareholders happy with short-term paybacks, and hopefully they won’t notice that the business itself is collapsing. Seriously though, any enduring enterprise is forever mindful of a long-term vision that will ensure keeping costs down over the long term. This budget is a recipe for much higher taxes in the future, as it guarantees that we will have to invest in higher cost solutions to social and economic problems that will be the inevitable result.

In conclusion, we implore you to make courageous choices that ensure that our future taxes will not rise astronomically to pay for short-term payouts today. In other words, don’t follow in Mike Harris’s footprints and try to bribe us with our own money as he did in October 2000 with these $200 cheques. Each of you is fully aware of the more than five billion dollar legacy he left behind. We couldn’t afford it then, and we can’t afford it now.

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