Mayoral hopeful Bob Chiarelli pledges first-year property tax freeze, believes in ‘efficiencies’ in city budget

Chiarelli also wants to put the $332 million redevelopment of Lansdowne Park on hold and said he would push to delay council approval of the project until he fully understands the state of the city’s finances.

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Mayoral candidate Bob Chiarelli thinks he can pull off a hat trick from the days of his first go-around as head of Ottawa City Council by promising to freeze property taxes in 2023.

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It’s unclear how he would make the magic happen, given the high rate of inflation and contractual wage increases in the municipal civil service.

He said a “top-down review” of city finances by outside experts in the first 100 days of the term would find the savings needed to keep the line on taxes and user fees at the during the first year of a Chiarelli administration.

“I think it’s important to stabilize the situation and one of the ways to stabilize the situation is to freeze taxes,” Chiarelli said in an interview on Sunday, observing that “life in Ottawa is becoming unaffordable” for citizens and small businesses.

He planned to release his proposed tax freeze on Monday.

Asked if cuts would be inevitable under his proposed tax freeze, Chiarelli said he disagreed with the word cuts, noting that the city’s annual spending is d 6 billion dollars and that “efficiencies” can be discovered.

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“We can postpone things that aren’t absolutely essential until the economy recovers and things normalize a lot more,” Chiarelli said.

Chiarelli pointed out that he successfully froze taxes as regional president and again on a three-year term as the merged city’s first mayor just over 20 years ago.

The city’s long-term debt has increased, forcing the municipality to pay more to service the loan, Chiarelli said. The city’s audited financial statements for 2021 put long-term debt at $3 billion at the end of the year.

Chiarelli is also concerned about LRT-related litigation, the results of which could cost the city more.

Under Chiarelli’s tax proposal, there would be no increase in spending in the first year of office unless they relate to essential health, safety and social services.

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Chiarelli said he hasn’t made a decision on whether his proposed freeze will apply to water and sewer rates, which have seen higher annual increases than property taxes.

The level of taxation for subsequent years in office would be addressed annually, Chiarelli said.

As for the cost of external review to find savings, Chiarelli said “it’s not negligible,” but the fees and results are generally “responsible.”

Chiarelli also wants to put the upcoming redevelopment of Lansdowne Park on hold. The city wants to build a new north-side arena and stands at TD Place for $332 million, with high-rise buildings whose revenue would help cover the cost of borrowing money for new sports facilities.

An artist's concept of the Lansdowne 2.0 proposal.
An artist’s concept of the Lansdowne 2.0 proposal. Photo by OSEG

The council is expected to provide final approval for Lansdowne 2.0 in 2023, but Chiarelli said he would push to postpone the decision until he fully understands the state of the city’s finances.

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Under Mayor Jim Watson’s administration, annual tax increases have ranged from 1.9% at their lowest level in 2014 to 3% at their current term’s highest. Watson’s approach was to quickly gain council approval for an annual tax increase and develop a budget that matched the revenue forecast.

Watson is not seeking re-election.

Mayoral candidates Catherine McKenney and Mark Sutcliffe were asked if they would make campaign promises on taxes and if they thought it was possible to freeze taxes in any given year.

Catherine McKenney kicking off their mayoral campaign in Ottawa.
Catherine McKenney kicking off their mayoral campaign in Ottawa. Photo by Tony Caldwell /Postmedia

McKenney noted the financial strain families are feeling and promoted their approach to “smart” spending, but they didn’t talk about their approach to property taxes and whether a tax pledge will be part of their campaign.

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“Families in Ottawa are feeling the impact of the rising cost of living,” McKenney said in a statement sent by their campaign.

“It is more important than ever that we spend smart at City Hall. Budgets are about priorities. Ottawa can become a city that works better for everyone, while remaining fiscally responsible. I have a proven track record of saving the city money while improving the services we rely on. As mayor, I will keep my campaign promises by spending smartly. »

Similar to Chiarelli’s plan, Sutcliffe said he would lead a “zero-based budgeting” process that would include a line-by-line review of spending, questioning how every tax dollar is spent.

Mark Sutcliffe announced his candidacy for mayor on June 29 in a park in Kanata.
Mark Sutcliffe announced his candidacy for mayor on June 29 in a park in Kanata. Photo by Julie Olivier /Postmedia

“Without asking the tough questions, high priority areas may be underfunded and low priority areas will never be reviewed,” Sutcliffe said in a statement sent by his campaign. “If we just pile one budget on top of another, taxpayers won’t get their money’s worth. We need a fresh look and a new approach to make this happen.

Sutcliffe said there was an “affordability crisis” in Ottawa and, like McKenney, he spoke of a “smart” use of taxpayers’ money.

“This election is about who the voters of Ottawa trust to make their lives better and more affordable. Keeping taxes, fees and transit fares as low as possible is an important part of what residents expect from their mayor,” Sutcliffe said.

The municipal election is on October 24.

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