Students can't opt out of the U-Pass if they reside in Ottawa, making any changes to its price a direct financial concern for them. Photo credit: Cameron Ryan

In positive news for students, OC Transpo didn’t propose fare increases in the city’s draft 2023 budget tabled on Wednesday.

If the budget is approved by city council, the U-Pass will continue to cost $223.48 per semester, adult monthly passes would remain $125.50 and an adult single-ride fare would be still $3.70.

Housing and groceries have become more expensive over the last year, increasing the financial strain on students.

“If we are not paying more then it’s good for us,” said Praveetha Prakash, a first-year accounting and financial practice student. “All the other prices are gonna go up so (transit fares) staying the same is nice.”

Meanwhile, some motorists could pay more to park in 2023. The annual parking permit is proposed to increase to $733 (up 2.5 per cent) and a winter parking permit is proposed to increase to $159 (up 2.6 per cent).

The draft budget was tabled during a city council meeting.

“People often think of a budget as a bunch of numbers, but a city budget is not really about data. It’s about people and neighbourhoods. It’s about programs and services. And it’s about intentions and priorities,” Mayor Mark Sutcliffe said during the meeting.

Sutcliffe’s first budget promises a 2.5 per cent property tax increase, which comes out to around $104 more per household over last year for a home in the urban area with an assessed value of $415,000. This is in line with his election promise, although he warned that money is tight without help from other levels of government.

“Make no mistake,” Sutcliffe said. “This is a tight budget. If the provincial and federal governments don’t support the gaps we have in transit and other areas, we will face significant budget pressures in 2024.”

The Ottawa Police Services draft budget proposes just over $401 million in spending, some of which would be spent on 25 new positions.

The spending accounts for roughly nine per cent of the city’s budget and would equate to a $17 tax increase for the average household in Ottawa. Policing in 2023 would cost $680 for an average Ottawa household.

Ottawa police have stated that their main priorities they hope to address in 2023 include violence against women and guns and gangs, while promoting equality and diversity. They also hope to take a new more focused approach when handling public events and demonstrations.

Police have also promised to answer community feedback, taking hate crimes and mental health calls more seriously, making sure to handle them justly and appropriately.

Despite this, it seems the community still feels as though too much of the budget has gone to police services. University of Ottawa student Aya Sassi said the city should defund the police.

“Every day you hear a story of brutal police violence and it’s very unsettling,” said Sassi, 22. “If they don’t make us feel safe nor do they actually protect us, then they’re a waste of our taxpayer money. I’d rather it goes to services that need it more, like mental health.”

The Ottawa Fire Services are not planning to add more firefighters. The fire services responded to over 28,000 incidents involving fire, hazardous materials, rescue, medical and mutual aid agreements in 2022.

The City of Ottawa has allocated over $100 million to replace or rehabilitate parks and city cultural and recreation facilities in its 2023 budget plan.

The city has also pledged to build more than 25 new parks in residential communities through partnerships with developers as well as work with community groups to develop, expand, improve and renovate city parks and recreation facilities.

User fees for recreational memberships, admissions, or rentals are proposed to increase by 1.8 to 2.6 per cent from 2022. Included in the increased user fees is a proposed two per cent annual hike to fitness, swimming and skating membership fees. The increased fees would be in effect as of April 1.

The budget allocates over $3.2 million for the enhancement or upgrading of accessibility in parks and facilities across the capital. The draft budget includes $235,000 to enhance accessibility at Centrepointe Park, with plans that include an accessible swing.

How councillors reacted

Somerset Ward Coun. Ariel Troster tweeted that her focus is to improve services for downtown Ottawa residents and try to improve the poverty, homelessness and addiction issues.

Capital Ward councillor and the chair of the environment and climate committee Shawn Menard tweeted that although he hasn’t read through the 2023 city budget, he hopes to see funding for climate action.

College Ward Coun. Laine Johnson shared a video explaining how residents can participate in committee meetings to discuss issues in the ward.

Councillors also promoted budget consultations in their communities.

On Feb. 7, River Ward Coun. Riley Brockington will be hosting a consultation with councillors Jessica Bradley, Marty Carr and Menard.

Bradley, the councillor for Gloucester-Southgate ward, tweeted that she’s encouraged to see $5 million of sustainable base funding for Ottawa’s climate change master plan and additional funding for infrastructure maintenance.

West Carleton-March Ward Coun. Clarke Kelly is hosting a consultation on Feb. 7.

Barrhaven-West Ward Coun. David Hill and Barrhaven-East Ward Coun. Wilson Lo are hosting a consultation on Feb. 7.

Story contributors: Sophia Adams, Tyler Beauchesne, Magan Carty, Kolbe Devaux, Nathan Drescher, Elio Elia, Alyx Ewing, Liam Fox, Rory Friend, Tyler Major McNicol, Aadil Naik, David Rotel, Cameron Ryan and Griffin Waller