Next week, Ottawa’s transit commission will receive a report about how OC Transpo is trimming service to reflect the decreased ridership levels. Seventy transit positions will become vacant because of attrition and reassignments and they will go unfilled as a cost-saving measure.
How the province handles future transit funding through the gas tax will be one area to watch Wednesday.
Few upper-government cash transfers to municipalities rival the importance of the gas tax programs, which typically fund transit infrastructure.
With fewer vehicles on the road and guzzling gas, there could be an impact to revenue generated from the gas tax.
Municipal finance officers across Ontario have called on the provincial government to maintain the gas tax funding allocations from 2021 in 2022. The City of Ottawa received just over $38 million in provincial gas tax money for 2020-2021.
The Association of Municipalities of Ontario, meanwhile, has called on the provincial government to maintain gas tax allocations based on 2019 “for the coming years ahead.”
When Mayor Jim Watson and other heads of big-city councils put together their provincial budget requests last month, they called for a one-time doubling of the gas tax transfers as a way to spur construction. (In Ottawa, the city had to increase the transit levy on property tax bills because the provincial PC government cancelled a plan by the previous provincial Liberal governments to double the gas tax transfer.)
Here are some other areas that Watson and other mayors will be monitoring when Ontario Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy announces the provincial budget.
Municipal workers have been recruited to help the public health unit and hospitals with the logistics of COVID-19 vaccinations. It’s hard to imagine the upper governments would leave municipalities holding the bag on costs related to the clinics, but local governments want assurances that they won’t be struggling to pay the bills as they help manage mass vaccination sites in the months to come.
The city’s influence over the commercial sector is minimal under government regulations, so anything the province can do to make life easier for small businesses will have the endorsement of mayors. Tweaks made by Ottawa’s municipal government have been largely designed to help restaurateurs through patio fee reductions and patio placements, though council has also allowed retailers to use public space for sales and has promoted a buy-local campaign. Meanwhile, the city is studying whether it should give small businesses a property tax break, as made possible by the province through a budget announcement last year.
Providing more affordable housing at the most-needed time
More money for affordable housing is an evergreen request for big cities when it comes to upper-government budgets. The pandemic has amplified the need to provide people safe places to live. Ottawa council has approved a 10-year housing and homelessness plan that relies heavily on funding from the provincial and federal governments. Mayors are also calling on more funding for addiction and mental health services, noting that the opioid crisis has worsened during the pandemic. A report published last November by provincial agencies, including Public Health Ontario, highlighted a rising trend in opioid-related deaths, especially in large cities.
This content was originally published here.