Ottawa city council will soon embark on public consultations for the 2005 city budget even as residents are still adapting to changes caused by $75 million of cuts to city services in 2004. The combination of downloading, backwards provincial legislation and inflation will once again result in a shortfall in 2005. Before evaluating the potential for further cuts to the city’s budget, it is important to compare Ottawa’s service levels with other municipalities, including the costs of the municipal administration. In all cases, it is clear that any perception of Ottawa as a “fat cat” city is dated and untrue.
The Macdonald report attempts to address this issue by comparing Ottawa to other municipalities in Ontario and Canada. Seventeen upper tier municipalities and fifteen lower tier municipalities were evaluated and ranked on their gross municipal per capita spending. This comparison was done across seven categories, including human services (broken down and in total), libraries and parks & recreation.
The striking conclusion of this survey is that, in no case, does Ottawa spend more than other municipalities in these areas. Ottawa is ranked mid to low in the majority of categories and in no category does it rank first or second. This mid to low ranking in human services cannot be attributed to excessive administrative spending; such spending is also mid-range. A decade of inflation, zero tax increases and insufficient support from senior governments has simply left Ottawa with fewer resources to finance essential services when compared to other cities in this study.
Ottawa’s service levels are falling behind other communities and further reductions in services might drop Ottawa to the bottom of the list. In fact, in most categories, a significant expansion in program size would still result in a mid range ranking for Ottawa.