Tight budget leaves Ottawa community groups empty-handed
Local advocates flocked to a city committee meeting Monday to push for more social service funding in the 2016 budget.
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Too many forks and not enough pie: that was the theme of a marathon budget debate Monday when dozens of community advocates flooded city hall demanding more money.
Many of the 38 delegations asked the community and protective services committee to support “vital” programs serving everyone from immigrants to people with disabilities to the homeless.
A 1.5 per cent budget increase just isn’t enough to serve those vulnerable groups, said St. Luke’s Table director Shea Kiely, who spoke for a long list of city-funded non-profits.
Community resource centres, for instance, serve a city growing by as much as six per cent a year, said Sandy Wooley, who runs the Nepean, Rideau and Osgoode community resource centre.
As the city grows, the number of people needing social services is increasing, too.
“The pressures will soon not be manageable. We may have to turn away residents who need vital services,” Wooley said.
Mayor Jim Watson has committed to a two-per-cent tax increase cap even as the city faces a $36 million budget shortfall in 2016. Staff has been asked to find $11.6 million in savings next year.
Wooley called for a steeper tax hike, a demand backed by the Pinecrest-Queensway community health centre, the Western Ottawa community resource centre and Kiely’s coalition.
The city’s cultural leaders were also looking for more cash.
City-funded arts, heritage and culture programs won’t get the $684,000 top-up promised in the city’s own five-year arts funding strategy next year – nor is it expected in 2017 or 2018, said Catherine Lindquist from the Council of Heritage Organizations.
If that doesn’t change, the city will fall short of its $4.95 million investment promise by 78 per cent, she told councillors, and Ottawa will remain 31 per cent below the national cultural spending average.
“Surely average is not beyond our reach,” Lindquist said.
Adding to the budget won’t be easy; to do so, councillors will have to cut the same amount from somewhere else.
Council will approve the final budget Dec. 9.