Amid calls to freeze the Ottawa police budget in 2022, the City of Ottawa's financial staff and politicians say the police services board will have to make that decision.
City councillors on the finance and economic development committee heard from more than a dozen people on Tuesday who want police to spend no more than they did in 2021, an argument also made during last year's budget consultations.
The committee decided to approve a budgetary road map that allows police up to a three per cent increase as City of Ottawa finance staff recommended.
City staff advised that council can't legally direct the police board on the particulars of its spending, but police could still draft a budget that does not require the $14 million increase, which mostly goes toward wage increases.
Coun. Diane Deans, who chairs the independent police services board, said "best efforts" will be made to budget less than allowed, knowing residents expect change at a time when "policing is being re-imagined," she said.
"This is a very challenging task," Deans added.
Prevent crime to save costs
Some members of the public argued the committee could indeed cap police spending and move funding to other places.
"This community has been loud and clear over the past year: no more money for police," said Cassie Slack, a Centretown resident who wants the money spent on affordable housing and public health programs.
She pointed to how the police operating budget is more than $375 million a year while more than 100 community groups share city funding of just $25 million.
Community groups can't meet around-the-clock needs of people in distress, she said, when they receive so little funding.
Irvin Waller, a retired criminology professor at the University of Ottawa, argued to reduce street crime and gender-based violence, the city needs to address systemic problems, as well as measure the city's response and assess if it's working.
"This is how you will actually achieve the reductions and ultimately relieve a lot of the pressure on the police budget," Waller said.
Tax bill increase of 3%
On Tuesday, the committee reviewed a budgetary road map much broader than police spending. City staff will now come up with a draft budget for 2022 that will see most property tax bills in Ottawa rise three per cent.
That's an extra $119 for an urban home assessed at $415,000, for a total of $4,086. For a home assessed at that same amount, rural homeowners will see their taxes go up slightly less — $91 — because they don't receive the same transit service.
City treasurer Wendy Stephanson said 2022 will be a "challenging year" due to the expected absence of COVID-19 relief money from upper levels of government, even though problems such as low transit ridership will likely linger.
Inflation on city construction is also projected to rise from 2.2 to 3.7 per cent in 2022.
As for public health, the Ontario government had made cities responsible for more of the cost before the pandemic — 30 per cent, up from 25 per cent. Staff say it's not clear if the province will cover the $3.1 million difference in 2022, which it did last year.
The draft budget is set to be tabled at a special city council meeting in November with virtual consultations taking place over the next four months.