By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express
City council has put its stamp of approval on the 2017 budget, and while it means an additional $53 on the average resident’s property tax bill, an increase in debt and slowing growth are forcing some departments to cut back while the city is going deep into its reserves to fund some much needed capital projects. Here’s a look at some of the things those dollars will be used for:
A group of new positions approved as additional items in the budget forced council to cut some much needed parking lot repairs throughout the city, some of which staff claimed in their report were posing safety concerns.
Those positions include a new recruitment specialist ($100,000), who will be tasked with plugging gaps as the city begins to deal with a growing number of retirements in the coming year along with any other senior management positions that become vacant, a new building attendant at the Consolidated Operations Depot ($76,605) and a trio of “additional positions” ($278,000) rounded out the new hires.
On top of that, the city needed to fill approximately $911,500 in gapping savings they realized in 2016 as those positions now need to be filled.
This year will also see city staff begin bargaining negotiations with CUPE Local 251 and Local 760 representing the city’s inside workers and crossing guards respectively.
The Harbour Lands will remain a priority for the Community Services department in 2017, but there are also a series of city facilities seeing some money in the coming year.
While various buildings will be getting accessibility upgrades ($120,000), a series of city sporting facilities including Harman Park Arena and the Donevan Recreation Complex will be getting LED lighting retrofits ($188,000).
The Columbus Community Centre will be getting a new roof ($120,000), several city playgrounds will be resurfaced and refurbished ($200,000) and splash pads will also see some repairs and upgrades ($75,000).
City pools will also be getting work done with the South Oshawa Community Centre getting $40,000 in repairs and $35,000 for Rotary pool.
With that said, city parking facilities are one of the big cash cows in this year’s budget with the McMillian Parkade needing $70,000 for a stairwell rehabilitation and $360,000 for an elevator upgrade to go along with the $1.3 million for other parking lot rehabilitation and reconstruction on other city facilities.
In total, the city will be spending nearly a third of its capital budget, or $10.8 million, on new vehicles and equipment.
As is the norm, the city’s fleet of vehicles is getting a costly upgrade in the coming year with $1.95 million going towards new vehicles, along with $20,000 in new tools to maintain them. However, a large chunk of money will be going toward new equipment for Oshawa Fire Services, including $1.3 million for new self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA), $800,000 for a new pumper truck, $1.2 million for a new aerial truck and $96,000 for other assorted equipment.
The city will also be spending $1.9 million on IT upgrades and security measures, most of them at city hall and a few other scattered city facilities.
Currently, the capital budget has a series of plans, and the dollars assigned to them for the coming year, whether that be for consultants or staff to carry out their work. These include $75,000 assigned to a courthouse risk assessment to examine the environmental mitigation measures on the courthouse lands, $250,000 for a Lakefront West expansion study and a pair of watercourse improvement studies for Harmony Creek with a $100,000 price tag for the pair.
However, Oshawa also has plans on the books to complete some assessments that have been on the to-do list for some time, including an operations needs assessment, to judge the efficiency of the city’s operations along with a Fire Training Plan and a Live Fire Training Facility, which they are hoping to find a partner for. Both of these will be the responsibility of the Community Services Department over the coming year.
The Corporate Services department will also have its work cut out for it in the coming year as their 2017 to-do list includes a review of voting methods and other election related activities ahead of the 2018 municipal election, a review of the city’s cyber security capabilities, a new enforcement plan for its freshly established animal welfare standards, a possible Trap Neuter Return program, and perhaps the most contentious issue, staff will “investigte concerns and examine potential regulatory standards related to private transportation companies.”