City's largest committee budget approved as organizations request funding help

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The City of Ottawa's community and protective services committee heard compelling pleas for funding as it approved its 2022 budget on Thursday. (Hugo Belanger/CBC - image credit)
The City of Ottawa's community and protective services committee heard compelling pleas for funding as it approved its 2022 budget on Thursday. (Hugo Belanger/CBC - image credit)

The City of Ottawa's community and protective services committee hears compelling, perennial pleas for extra funding at budget time, and Thursday was no different.

More than a dozen delegations appeared at its virtual meeting, including museums struggling with a severe loss of visitors during COVID-19, firefighters working unprecedented overtime, and social service organizations facing a surge in need, but "stagnant" resources.

The committee approved a $1.45 billion draft operating budget for 2022 — the largest of any committee — to pay for a long list of public services: child care, shelters and housing subsidies, long-term care homes, paramedics, cultural and recreational facilities, city parks, and more.

The budget includes money for 14 more paramedics, a salary to bring supervision of the security operations centre in-house after a 2019 audit, and nearly $30 million for the city to keep up pandemic measures such as running respite centres, the vaccination program, and personal protective equipment in long-term care homes.

Most fees to rent community facilities, book arena time, and participate in recreational programs are going up two per cent.

Seeking support for housing, social services

The city's funding for non-profit community social service agencies has also been revamped and will now provide yearly funding to 95 organizations for a total of $28.6 million.

Municipal funding for social services isn't keeping up with population or demand, however, according to the executive director of the Nepean, Rideau and Osgoode Community Resource Centre.

"Our organizations directly support these communities with limited and stagnant resources year after year," said Anita James, adding community health and resource centres were doing so long before the pandemic hit.

Her group has just one year of funding for its mental health program for rural youth, which is at capacity. It needs more money to tackle elder abuse.

Community health and resources centres also spoke at committee calling for the city to take more preventative measures to help people before situations require costly police interventions — a case they made last month when the city approved a community safety and well-being plan.

The Alliance to End Homelessness made a similar request to focus housing money on prevention, rather than spending $14 million next year on nightly motel stays for emergency shelter, for instance. The housing services branch has a $210 million budget overall.

"This isn't a question, councillors, of whether we should spend the money or not. We already are. But we're funding a crisis rather than the long-term solutions to prevent that crisis," said executive director Kaite Burkholder Harris.

The city is studying the deeper root causes of family homelessness, which could include possible discrimination against them in the housing market, said community services general manager Donna Gray.

Marc-André Cossette/CBC
Marc-André Cossette/CBC

Firefighter overtime

The head of the local firefighter union appeared before the committee to argue the city needs more firefighters because the current workforce is consistently asked to work overtime.

Doug McLennan, president of the Ottawa Professional Fire Fighters Association, said he has turned down 40 overtime shifts this year, and he's never before seen firefighters being pulled from vacation to work.

"My members are burnt out from working so much overtime," said McLennan.

The new general manager of emergency protective services and former fire chief, Kim Ayotte, agreed "overtime is through the roof," but disagreed with many of the other statements McLennan made about the fire service struggling to serve the spreading suburbs.

The 2022 budget for Ottawa Fire Services includes $177 million to run 45 fire stations, and pay for 975 staff members. Of those, 863 are career firefighters, while the city also has another 500 volunteers, said Ayotte.

"Today's fire service is safer than it was last year, it's safer than it was five years ago, and it's definitely safer than it was 10 to 15 years ago," said Ayotte.

The city will also hire seven temporary bylaw officers next year. Bylaw chief Roger Chapman had recently told committee officers were under strain because of more calls from a growing population, and having to cover a wider area as new homes and communities are built.

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