Critics pan‘generalities,’chamber offers support
There’s no “magic bullet” to deliver a tax freeze, but there are hundreds of smaller, smart decisions that can help achieve it.
That’s the upshot of Mayor Larry O’Brien’s highly-anticipated breakfast speech yesterday, which was promoted as his forum to outline plans to save money as Ottawa wrestles with a nearly $100-million budget shortfall for 2008.
Critics panned the speech for its “general” references to contracting out city services, reducing administrative overhead by $42 million, and possibly selling off Hydro Ottawa for $300 million, but the city’s chamber of commerce immediately endorsed O’Brien’s plan.
“It’s disappointing,” said Coun. Alex Cullen (Bay ward). “It was billed as solutions for the 2008 budget and we’re not hearing any.”
“We gave him a zero per cent budget in the first year and said, ‘Here’s your time, show us a plan.’ Eleven months later I think it’s very disappointing we don’t have a plan,” said Diane Deans (Gloucester-Southgate).
The Ottawa & District Labour Council panned the speech generally and took aim at plans for “privatizing the whole of the city,” said president Sean McKenny.
But the Ottawa Chamber of Commerce welcomed O’Brien’s proposals, particularly a review of outsourcing services for savings.
“The chamber’s been calling for this since amalgamation,” said president Gail Logan. “Just because the city has a mandate to ensure that service is available, it doesn’t mean they have to deliver it.”
O’Brien said he’d planned to be more specific, but backed off when several councillors raised concerns about being able to debate the details.
O’Brien urged councillors to think long term during the budget debates and help hold the line on municipal taxes. “It will take $188 million in annual savings and revenue increases to deliver a ‘zero-means-zero’ budget over the next three years,” said O’Brien, a reference to his tax-freeze election slogan in 2006.