Wicked winter has city heading for $23M overrun
Even the weather isn’t cooperating with Mayor Larry O’Brien’s attempts to keep Ottawans’ property taxes down.
Yesterday, O’Brien warned residents that weeks of relentless snowfall might force the city to add a $50 surcharge to property tax bills this year, in order to pay a massive bill for snow clearing and removal that could cost $88 million — or $23 million over budget.
"I’m going to recommend to my council colleagues that we pay our bills as they come in. That will be roughly $50 per household," said O’Brien, who conceded that many residents "will not be happy" with the proposal.
Ottawa is already facing a property tax increase of over four per cent. The surcharge represents about a two-per-cent increase on a tax bill of $2,500.
More than 400 centimetres of snow has fallen on the capital this winter. "We had set aside nearly $65 million, but clearly it was not enough for this winter," O’Brien said.
At today’s transportation committee meeting, the city’s surface operations division will report that snow removal efforts could go $23 million over budget. But one councillor advised the city to slow down on the surcharge plan.
Maria McRae, chair of the transportation committee, prefers to wait and see what next winter brings before adding a new fee.
"I think that’s something that is premature at this time," she said. "We’re just looking at a forecasted lack of revenue and I would like to see what happens."
This winter highlights the need for a snow removal reserve to be set up for future, she said.
O’Brien said he’d rather pay the bills than hope for a mild winter next season.
"Hope isn’t a very good strategy. Nobody is ever happy to spend more money, but I think this is something they’ll understand."
Using reserve funds to cover the deficit for a "once in 30-years event" is not appropriate, he said, adding that the city also could not use the nearly $5.5 million it had set aside for the recently failed downtown concert hall project to soften the blow, because that cash is connected to a provincial grant.
TIM WIECLAWSKI/Metro Ottawa