The City of Ottawa has recently made efforts to make municipal budgeting somewhat less mysterious. On June 24, 2015, the City Treasurer held a “primer” session on budget basics and the following day Mayor Watson and senior City staff held a 1-hour town hall phone-in. Here are the links to:
+ a summary version of “Budget 101” [no longer online but here is the current page: http://ottawa.ca/en/city-hall/budget-and-taxes/budget/understanding-your-city-budget]
+ Marian Simulik’s slides (1 MB)
+ The Mayor’s 1-hour town hall audio and verbatim transcript [no longer online]
+ a story by Emma Jackson in the Metroland weeklies about these initiatives (June 26). The article compares the turnout at this tele-townhall (50 dialed in, a dozen asked questions) with what the Mayor and all “core city” Councillors faced in a “public consultation” on the 2015 Budget — 20 people showed up then.
This initiative came about as a result of a submission by the Treasurer of the FCA (Federation of Citizens’ Associations) during the 2015 Budget “considerations” by the City’s super-Standing Committee (FEDCO) on March 3, 2015. Newly elected Councillors also have been heard to grumble that they have little chance to influence budget decisions.
A tele-town hall, no matter when held, will not change the fact that the Budget is pretty much written by senior bureaucrats and the Mayor’s office (rejecting or accepting proposals from staff). They hold all the power.
The “Budget 101” data are fair enough but trend data (over at least the last five years) would be extremely helpful, as would restructuring into meaningful decision-oriented categories. And how about providing substantive briefing information — at present, the information provided in Budget documents is often near-useless; see, e.g., the few lines offered by the Forestry Department.
The other problem with town hall-type “consultation” is that, once it catches on, it could easily be swamped by special interests.
Shortcuts won’t do. Genuine public engagement is what is needed. A significant dialogue with members of civil society on what the Budget should/should not contain would be so much better, based on digestible analysis of past trends.
Erwin – 18 July 2015
(In part revised from postings to the GA List, and with thanks to Bill Toms for pursuing the City on making the documentation available.)
Al Crosby comments — 4 September 2015:
The Budget Deficit
If anyone is interested in the Budget Deficit details on the City of Ottawa website, it is hard to find if you don’t know where to go. The 2015 Operating and Capital Budget deficit was covered in the news around Aug 2015.
Here’s a little help. First go to the e-Agenda on the City of Ottawa home page under Council, committee and board agendas and minutes. Or use the direct link here: http://app05.ottawa.ca/sirepub/agendaminutes/index_en.aspx
Then by clicking on 1 Sep 2015 date in the calendar, you should see any meetings for that date pop up under:.
“Meetings for Tuesday, September 01, 2015”
The Finance and Economic Development Committee should appear after a little while as it was the only committee meeting that day. Now look on the right hand side. I tried clicking on the Video/Audio link, and the AGENDA showed up.
I then scrolled down to Item 5 and clicked on it.
Again on the right hand side, under Vote Records (Unofficial Results) start scrolling down to the Supporting Documents.
Once there you will see REPORT – 2015 Operating and Capital Budget Q2 Status Report – Tax and Rate.docx and other documents.
Click on the little Adobe icon for the REPORT and when open, the details on the deficit are broken down under the headings.
2015 Forecast – Tax Supported Services – $34.526M deficit
2015 Forecast – Rate Supported – $6.8M deficit
Other people may be interested in finding such information either now or in the future. Good luck.