New Ottawa city council will have to figure out year-end deficit

When the new city council steps into Ottawa City Hall to start their new term, the end-of-year deficit will be one of the first tasks to tackle. (Francis Ferland/CBC - image credit)
When the new city council steps into Ottawa City Hall to start their new term, the end-of-year deficit will be one of the first tasks to tackle. (Francis Ferland/CBC - image credit)

Financial forecasts for various City of Ottawa departments and boards suggest the new city council will need to resolve a sizable deficit for 2022.

Municipalities in Ontario are not allowed to end the year in the red.

At its final meeting of the term on Tuesday, the finance and economic development committee will consider the mid-year financial update, which projects a $12.2-million shortfall by year's end. Updates on the transit, police, library and public health portions of the city's overall $4.1 billion operating budget are reported separately.

COVID-related expenses could top $65 million, but the city expects funding from upper levels of government to cover those.

Beyond that, the public works department spent millions cleaning up the derecho storm from last May, and the city faced other costs from the truck convoy protests last winter.

The city also expects to bring in less revenue from payments from federal buildings and the Rideau-Carleton Raceway, and less money from red light camera tickets. Water bills are also providing less than expected because people are consuming more at home — where rates are cheaper — than at the office.

Some of those losses are offset by surpluses: the city has an extra $2.5 million because of less winter maintenance (less snowfall) and the city had savings from some positions left vacant.

Police pressures

There's a much larger hole not reflected in that report: a $85 million shortfall in the transit department. The transit commission had already heard in September how OC Transpo's ridership had not bounced back as projected — some had forewarned the budget was based on fare revenue that was unlikely to materialize.

The treasurer said she was awaiting an announcement from the province, and expects that big gap to be covered.

On Monday evening, the police services board will also hear that their books are likely to be balanced, but some big pressures exist for the force.

Police have spent about $11 million in 2022 to deal with the truck convoy protest last winter, as well as the Rolling Thunder rally in April, Canada Day, and other events. The force expects Public Safety Canada to reimburse those costs.

The police also cite unexpected savings of $3.5 million because of a high number of vacancies. When it did turn to hiring it found a "diminished recruit pool," but is trying to hire 80 to 95 officers in the coming months. The labour market is also tight for civilian police staff where it also has vacant positions.

Meanwhile, the service agreed at budget time to find $7 million in base efficiencies, which former chief Peter Sloly had called "an extremely aggressive goal."

The report for Tuesday echoes that, saying by the end of September it had found $3.1 million, or 44 per cent, of those savings by limiting travel and credit card purchases, reducing 15 jobs, and getting better rates on contracts.

For its part, Ottawa Public Health projects to spend $77 million in 2022 related to COVID-19 and expects to be reimbursed by the Ministry of Health. The Ottawa Public Library anticipates a surplus of $3.2 million.