In a major speech today, Jim Watson committed to lowering the annual property tax cap from 2.5% to 2% in his second term. He also provided an overview of the City of Ottawa’s solid financial position and outlined several measures to ensure continued strong fiscal management at City Hall.
“We need to stay the course by maintaining a moderate tax cap that will allow the City of Ottawa to continue to make progress on community priorities,” said Watson. “We can either pay now or pay much more later. We need to keep life affordable for families, while continuing to improve services, public transit, and infrastructure.”
In 2010, Watson was elected on a realistic platform of limiting property tax changes to 2.5%, delivering on his commitment in every year of his mandate. The 2014 budget saw the lowest change in seven years at just 1.9%.
Watson brought stability and certainty to the City’s finances in his first term, while investing in neglected infrastructure and maintaining the City’s excellent AAA credit rating. He also saved millions by reducing the use of outside consultants, moving services online, and compressing the size of the municipal workforce.
“With more than 21,000 new Ottawa addresses since 2010, we need modest tax growth to ensure all residents continue to be well served,” said Watson. “Over the next four years, we also need to dig even deeper to find savings to ensure as much as possible can be left in residents’ pockets.”
In Watson’s second term, he is committed to the same balanced approach with a continued focus on prudent fiscal management. As a start, he will challenge City of Ottawa staff to undertake a physical space review of all municipally owned and leased property to ensure it is providing the best possible value. Watson used the example of vacant and underused City-owned properties, which represent a double loss for taxpayers: no one-time revenue from the sale of the properties and no long-term income since they are not generating property taxes.
To find further savings, Watson is proposing that the City of Ottawa undertake a comprehensive city-wide strategy for energy retrofits. This strategy will include municipal buildings and fleet operations.
Watson is also committed to reviewing opportunities to partner with organizations like the Ottawa Police Service, Ottawa Community Housing, colleges, universities, hospitals and other large employers, on bulk purchases of common goods and services such as office supplies, fuel, and vehicles.
Under Watson’s leadership, the City of Ottawa now has the most comprehensive integrity and accountability measures in the province of Ontario. These include an integrity commissioner, a lobbyist registry, a gift registry and the posting of expenses online. If re-elected, Watson will further strengthen accountability and transparency at City Hall by making the Audit Sub-Committee a full standing committee of City Council.
“I would like to see City Council receive more frequent updates on the important work of the Auditor General, so we can continue to improve the way City Hall operates. This will allow us to follow up on accepted audit recommendations to ensure they are implemented,” said Watson. “Whether it is accountability, spending or procurement, we need to continue to ensure the City is working as efficiently as possible on behalf of residents.”