Is The Mayor Building The Next Big Operating Deficit?

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Is Ottawa beginning to build its next operating budget deficit?

It sure looks that way.

On the good side of the ledger, the City of Ottawa will be offering discounted transit passes to Ottawa’s poor.

On the bad side, there’s no word on how the city will pay for it. Just wait until budget time in November, Mayor Jim Watson says.

What’s wrong with telling the public right now?


Photo above: Mayor Jim Watson wants a low-income transit pass for Ottawa. Why can’t he tell the public how he plans to pay for it?


It rather sounds like Watson is doing something without a plan for how to cover the costs. If the low-income pass program is well-planned, surely the mayor can say where the money will be found. But he can’t now.

That’s how operating deficits are built. This program looks as though it was announced on the fly rather than thought-through. And no one, for a change, is missing the coincidence that this great announcement of generosity to the under-privileged was announced on the same day as 177 city employees were laid off in an effort to cover Watson’s record-breaking $42-million operating deficit.

When Watson can’t say where the money is coming from for such a big project, it smacks of faulty planning and desperation on a bad news day. However this time Watson’s deflection didn’t work. The city layoffs were top of mind at Ottawa City Hall and in the media. Well they should be.

That said, the low-income transit pass is a good idea. Now that downtown has been gentrified and extremified, low-income Ottawans can’t afford to live in the core. However many of their job are there.

So it’s the bus or no job.

Kudos to Watson for supporting the new pass. But he has yet to explain where the money is to found.

Welcome to record-breaking operating deficit, Part 2.

 


 

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8 thoughts on “Is The Mayor Building The Next Big Operating Deficit?

  1. The provincial buffoons do it on a spend-and-tax basis but Watson does it a bit differently.

    Spend and spend then spend more and ask for help from the feds and province. The last resort which always seems to come home to roost is tax and defect, ie. bail out for another job.

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  2. This announcement had little or nothing to do with Watson supporting a bus pass for low income people.

    The five downtown councillors are holding a budget preparation meeting next week where they will be talking with residents about this bus pass and how to make it a part of the 2017 budget. Watson has clued in that they have support for it so he wants to make sure that the credit goes to him when it’s announced. Instead of being pushed into it publicly during the budget debates, he wants to be the ‘good guy’.

    One reason he’s not releasing the cost or any other details is that he wants to keep it as insignificant a discount as he can get away with while responding to the pressure from the community. If next week’s meeting says residents want a $50 pass, he’ll offer an $80 one and then ‘negotiate’ down to $65 during the budget debates. It’s a trick he’s learned from developers who, if they want to build a 30-storey building, announce plans for 45 floors and then ‘accommodate’ the community outrage by ‘scaling down’ to 35. Then, if there are still objections, they go all the way down to 30 floors, proclaiming all the while that they’ve responded to the community even though, they claim, they’ll barely break even on the building now.

    Another reason he’s doing this is so that he can talk about how he’s responding to councillors’ requests. He thinks it will mean an easier ride at budget time if he’s seen to be including some of their priority items but, of course, he picks which things he, in his beneficence, will grant them.

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  3. I was thinking the exact same thing Ken.

    When I saw the Mayor’s tweet the other day, I thought about replying and asking what program or service he plans to cut to make space for it. After all, councillors were given an edict, unwritten as far as I know, that if they propose new items for the budget they must also bring corresponding cost savings elsewhere. Why hasn’t the Mayor done this?

    I don’t disagree with the idea but once again, as is the norm for the Mayor, details are thin.

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  4. At this point, the mayor hasn’t been informed where the money will come from.

    Sometime back I posted a list on the Dawg of what needs to be done. The first thing was a review of the overseer class at city hall.

    City manager Steve Kanellakos has shown that he is willing to start at the top. He should next be letting things settle in a bit and all the while be looking for the next steps. There should be a department-by-department review that looks for further staffing cuts. I’d guess another 800 plus can go.

    Then there is the elimination of the fluff, I believe that Kanellakos will know what that means.

    Tell your councillors that getting the house in order is important. Hopefully , Kanellakos will stay the course and your council won’t chicken out. If they heed the advice of your new city manager, your city may come back on course and Kanellakos will tell them how to pay for a $10 per week pass for low-income families.

    Let the man do his job, hope that council listens and maybe the ship will float again. And, oh yes, he’ll tell council how they can pay for it; all they need do is have the guts to follow through.

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    1. Chaz, I would add to the list of cost control priorities for Mr. Kanellakos to invoke (if he hasn’t already) is to require that every program/policy/initiative (existing and new) have a single paragraph preamble that:
      – describes the problem that exists, or opportunity that they want to create/support
      – describes how the proposed policy addresses the problem/opportunity
      – sets out a measurable objective (how much up or down, by when), and how that metric will be measured.

      If staff cannot craft this paragraph, then the policy/initiative is likely not worth doing. Ergo, they have identified a program that either needs to be revamped or dropped.

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      1. Ron,
        The best approach is zero-based budgeting. It starts with the premise that no expense is necessary until it is justified. It is a budget process that requires time to implement and must be done in stages so as to not overwhelm management’s time all at once. It starts with the things you listed. Some programs/projects/expenditures are easier to justify than others and some are just plain fluff.
        skoal,
        Chaz

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        1. Chaz:

          First the city needs to understand two things.

          What services it must supply and the true meaning of budget. It must learn what normal folks do to make do with the income you have … not dream up ways to garner votes and tax to fill your wishes.

          Get back to the basics and see what you have left over for the discretionary spending.

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          1. Bruce:

            A very simple principle recognizes that there are things we need and there are things we want. Somethings are easily put under one of these two headings. Somethings are less easily defined.

            I believe that a civilized society must provide comprehensive support for the weaker members of our society but someone else may not. Someone might think a new library is a need whereas, I do not. The pols have to debate these things and decide if something we want may be something we also need and then come up with a way to pay for everything. The taxpayers elect officials to make these decisions and we can only hope that they take their responsibility seriously and perform their duties as true trustees of the public purse.

            The basic problems with politics is separating your self-agrandization and political ambitions from what society needs and wants.

            skoal,
            Chaz

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