Catherine McKenney reveals financial plan to pay for mayor’s platform

“I’m here to show you that ambition can be affordable.”

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Catherine McKenney has released a financial plan to show how they will pay for transportation, housing, climate and other promises they made as part of their Ottawa mayoral campaign, while maintaining increases to property tax at 3% and without cutting existing municipal services. .

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“I’m here to show you that ambition can be affordable,” McKenney said Thursday at a press conference on this financial plan.

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It relies on four sources of funding, which the McKenney campaign says exceeds the city’s existing budget.

The first three are: the city’s projected annual revenue growth, based on maintaining the average seen over the last term and after accounting for inflation and population growth; withdraw $90 million held in the city’s discretionary reserves, which they say totaled $583 million at the end of 2021; and securing new transfers from federal funds for housing development and active transportation for municipalities.

For the two major capital expenditures in the financial plan, the city would take on what the campaign describes as “smart debt” to the tune of $250 million and $65 million respectively, plus an unspecified amount of interest. This would pay for McKenney’s cycling infrastructure plan, which they say would be repaid in principal and interest by the $15 million a year the city is already expected to spend on cycling, and on municipal building renovations, which , according to them, should be repaid within eight years of energy savings.

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The city already has $3 billion in debt outstanding and $1.7 billion in authorized but not yet issued debt, according to McKenney’s campaign.

The new dollars needed for McKenney’s core operational platform commitments — the portion of the city’s budget that the city is not allowed to incur debt or run a deficit — total $343 million over a four-year period. This includes: $288 million to increase transit operations, freeze transit fares, provide free transit for people 17 and under, and reduce the cost of the Equipass for low-income Ottawans. revenue; $10 million per year to further divert organics from the waste stream and invest in refining biogas to create renewable natural gas; and $16 million a year in housing allowances for people living in hotels and shelters and at risk of homelessness, with less money saved now being spent on these hotel spaces.

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The campaign says the sources of funding they have identified – revenue growth, reserve funds and money from higher levels of government – ​​will cover the platform’s operational expenses with plenty of leeway, leaving set aside $132 million over four years.

Regarding future spending levels in areas of the existing municipal budget, McKenney said it’s “always possible” that a smaller increase could be budgeted for one service, so that spending for another could increase more. . Citing the police budget as an example, McKenney said if the project comes back with a 3% increase, the evidence supporting this must be questioned.

McKenney’s plan was announced a day after mayoral candidate Mark Sutcliffe released his financial framework, including a promise to raise property taxes between 2 and 2.5% a year in his first two years. — a break from the 3% cap that Mayor Jim Watson stuck to in his last term and that McKenney matches — and his own commitment that services won’t be cut to pay for his platform.

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The two leading candidates traded criticism over their respective financial plans, with the $35-60 million in savings Sutcliffe says he will find by eliminating vacant and non-essential city jobs and staff attrition as well that a strategic review of city spending being characterized by McKenney as “cuts” that will hurt Ottawa residents.

“Are there $60 million in savings to the City of Ottawa? Absolutely not … Jim Watson would have found that and we would have had a tax cut,” McKenney told reporters on Thursday.

Sutcliffe called McKenney’s plan “extremely risky”. Arguing that McKenney’s spending priorities did not align with those of most Ottawa residents, he said the plan “Plunders our city’s reserves, dramatically increases our debt, and will significantly jeopardize our city’s financial stability.”

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In releasing the plan, McKenney included a positive critique of its “fiscal transparency” from former Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page, now president of the University of Ottawa’s Institute for Fiscal Studies and Democracy, who said it “fosters political debate, accountability and trust.”

Mayoral candidate Bob Chiarelli had a different opinion, concluding even before his competitors released their financial plans that “the numbers will actually mean nothing. They are just for show.

Chiarelli promised a freeze on taxes, fees and non-discretionary spending in the first year of his term as well as a review of city operations to find efficiencies. After that, he told this newspaper that determining any property tax increases would be a year-to-year process rather than something he would commit to in advance.

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