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Denley: Ottawa property tax freeze is half a good idea

Anyone can freeze taxes. The trick is to freeze spending. Failure to do both will only result in more tax increases in the future.

Bob Chiarelli speaks to the media after registering as a candidate for mayor at the City of Ottawa Elections Office on May 2. His tax-freeze idea is a shot across the bow to the other contenders.
Bob Chiarelli announced on May 2 at the Ottawa City Elections Office and. Photo credit: ERROL MCGIHON /Postmedia

Real and politically acceptable property tax promises Creating is one of them. On the toughest challenges facing Ottawa's mayoral candidates. If you choose a number that is too large, you will not win. Choosing too low will result in failing to keep promises or contribute to poor city services.

Former Mayor Bob Chiarelli has We launched the tender offering a one-year tax freeze with an expert review of spending. That's a half good idea. The city's spending is reasonable and has lagged behind external scrutiny. During his 12-year reign of Mayor Jim Watson, the magic formula was to raise taxes at something like inflation, and then a little more what we did last year.

Someone in the mayor's office or bureaucracy might have asked the tough questions about whether city spending was effective and aligned with public priorities, but it wasn't the councilors. The annual budget exercise consisted of minor tweaks at best.

So let's take a second look at how property taxes are used. Any new mayor should. Unfortunately, the promise of tax cuts is just a gimmick. Anyone can freeze taxes. The trick is to freeze spending. If he doesn't do both, he'll only get more tax increases in the remaining three years of his term.

Chiarelli says he's looking for "efficiency" rather than cuts, but the constant pressure of rising wages and high inflation has made it difficult to provide services for the same amount of money. decrease is inevitable. For those who are aware of the city's road conditions and general shabbyness, it is unattractive.

Two strong contenders, Kaun. Katherine McKechnie and journalist and businessman Mark Sutcliffe haven't yet figured out their property tax figures, but neither has rushed to meet Chiarelli's tax freeze. McKenney suggests "smart" spending, but it's defined. Sutcliffe wants a zero-based budgeting approach with line-by-line spend reviews.

Sutcliffe's approach is a rational one, but it would mean a complete overhaul of the way the city accounts for spending. The city budget provides taxpayers with minimal information and little usefulness. For example, consider road operations on page 241 of the budget. The city plans to spend $135 million on road services this year, and there's quite a lot going on. For the curious, there is a list of all types of roadside services offered by the city. The amount spent on each is not shown. Instead, spending is tallied at the highest level on his second page. Net result: you know nothing. I doubt it, as I intended.

The City's budget should determine what the City is trying to achieve in each service area, how the results will be measured, and how additional spending will help achieve those goals. We need to tell the public how we can help. City budgets do nothing of those things.

The goal is to use the budget to force staff and councilors to explain what they do, why they do it, and why it costs money, rather than just communicating clearly. Developing a document like this is the first step in streamlining what the city does.

For years, city tax increases were political figures that had little to do with priorities or adequacy of services. This is a lazy approach that avoids all the hard work required to create a plan that will actually improve city services.

Expect mayoral candidates to articulate their priorities, what they will spend more money on, what they will spend less money on, and how they think this will affect taxes. is needed.

A tax freeze, as appealing as it is on the surface, would only fix a scaled-down version of the status quo. That's not what Ottawa needs.

Randall Denley is an Ottawa political commentator and author. He ran against Bob Chiarelli in the 2011 and his 2014 Ontario elections. Please contact

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