CORKERY – While Ottawa council scrambles to deal with a projected $192 million deficit, Coun. Eli El-Chantiry is unsure where that leaves the Corkery Community Centre expansion project.
Ottawa council received the grim forecast at Wednesday’s (June 24) council meeting the city is in deep financial trouble due to the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic – the city could be looking at a $192 million deficit by the end of the year.
“It’s not a pleasant situation to find ourselves in,” Mayor Jim Watson said. “But we’re not alone.”
And the cure tastes just as bad.
“We either cut deeply or raise taxes above the three per cent goal,” Watson said. “Now is the time if you have any good ideas. All of us have an obligation as leaders around the table.”
None of the options on the table are all that pleasant either – significant fee increases, tax hikes and/or program and service cuts.
City staff says part of the plan to deal with the deficit is to reduce operating costs and put off infrastructure projects. Staff have discussed continued a hiring freeze and dipping in to reserve funds.
“The city will pause some of our planned infrastructure projects for this year to free up funds that will help balance our budget,” explained city treasurer Wendy Stephanson at Wednesday’s council meeting.
The Municipal Act does not allow Ontario municipalities to run a deficit. With no cuts, city staff are estimating ratepayers could see a $1,500 increase on their tax bill.
City Manager Steve Kanellakos added help is needed from the provincial and federal governments.
“Getting the funding is where we’re focusing our efforts because without it, I can tell you now we will not be able to sustain our current service level for 2021,” he explained.
Kanellakos said if there is no funding from upper levels of government, staff would present a plan in the fall for possible service reductions to balance the budget in 2021.
With that bad news, West Carleton Online spoke with Coun. Eli El-Chantiry yesterday (June 25) to discuss some of the major projects earmarked for Ward 5, specifically the Corkery Community Centre renovation project.
The expansion plan, which would basically add a new building to the exiting community centre, is a roughly $1.5 million project. On March 10 (which seems like a lifetime ago), the Corkery Community Association’s (CCA) special Building committee presented a design ‘wish list’ to El-Chantiry and the city.
The CCA proposal features a 2,400 to 2,500 square-foot hall, a 400 sq.-ft kitchen and a small meeting room. The CCA wants to maintain as much of the existing space in the current community centre. They hope to turn the largest room in to a skate change room and maximize the remaining space.
West Carleton Online’s first question to the councillor was is that project in jeopardy?
“I hope not,” El-Chantiry said. “That money is already in the budget.”
During the council meeting, El-Chantiry asked staff if there is any chance light rail transit projects would be delayed as a cost-saving measure. The answer was no. But there is some loose change surrounding all city projects that will result in some savings.
“Every project the city puts in a 25 per cent contingency,” El-Chantiry said. “We never use that money. That’s in the millions.”
While city staff are recommending a halt to infrastructure projects, specifics will not be known until July when the Finance and Economic Development committee meeting discuss the issue in detail.
“They are not saying what specific projects,” El-Chantiry said. “I’m not 100 per cent sure, but some work (on the Corkery project) is already done.”
A handful of design options created by the city’s sub-contractors have already been sent to the CCA.
“They’ve already been sent to the community,” El-Chantiry said. “So far no delay.”
El-Chantiry knows that $192 million deficit will have an affect on projects in West Carleton.
“It’s going to delay some projects for sure,” he said. “We have to wait until fall to know what specific projects will be delayed or re-scheduled at the very least. It’s going to have an impact, no doubt about it. If we don’t get support from the province and the feds, we’re going to be in big trouble.”
El-Chantiry says council is still aiming for a three per cent hike but has no idea how they will get there.
“The impact of COVID-19 is going to be with us for a long time,” El-Chantiry said. “Cuts to services will be hard. Which one is not essential? We still need services. No one has ever told me we need less service – even the most conservative people. Even during the pandemic, I still get complaints for grass cutting. You and I will definitely be talking about the budget a lot over the next year.”
CCA President Katherine Woodward says she expects the project to move forward.
“I had a meeting with the city last week to go over designs, so as far as I’m aware there are no cutbacks,” she told West Carleton Online today (June 26). “There was money in the budget from last year and this year that has already been allocated to this project on top on the major capital grant which has already been approved.”