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Ottawa to freeze transit fares for low-income residents in 2021 budget

A Presto fare card and ticket machine at an OC Transpo Line 1 station. Nick Westoll / File / Global News

The City of Ottawa is primed to keep its property tax hikes to three per cent next year, even as it faces an unprecedented economic situation due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Ottawa’s finance and economic development committee (FEDCO) approved a three-per cent tax hike for next year as part of its directions to staff for the upcoming 2021 budget.

Under the proposed framework, the average urban homeowner would pay an extra $115 in annual property taxes. The average commercial property owner would see that tax bill increase $231 in 2021.

For rural homeowners, who would see a 2.8 per cent increase in taxes due to differences in transit expenses, the average property tax bill would rise $88 next year.

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Ottawa’s transit levy is primed to increase 4.6 per cent next year, which includes an extra $5 million to make up for the cancellation of Ontario’s planned doubling of gas tax contributions to the city.

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Transit fares for the general population would increase 2.5 per cent in 2021.

But in response to requests from councillors and public delegations that Ottawa not hike transit fares for the city’s most vulnerable residents during the novel coronavirus pandemic, Mayor Jim Watson said Tuesday he has already directed staff to freeze the cost of the Community Pass the EquiPass and EquiFares in 2021 — programs that support lower-income residents.

The Ottawa Police Service would receive a three-per cent boost to its levy, while the city-wide levy — the envelope where services such as Ottawa Public Health and the Ottawa Public Library get their funding — would rise 2.5 per cent.

Thanks largely to reduced service revenues and lower transit ridership during the pandemic, the city is projecting a deficit of $59.6 million for tax-supported programs for the remainder of 2020, FEDCO heard Tuesday.

Read more: Catherine Kitts set to become Cumberland Ward councillor in Ottawa

Ontario municipalities are not permitted to run deficits at the end of the year under provincial legislation.

Ottawa received $49.3 million in funding from the province back in August as part of the first round of the Safe Restart Agreement with the federal government. The city will need to apply for the second round of funding later this month to make up the remaining gap.

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Ottawa’s draft 2021 budget will be tabled at a special meeting of council on Nov. 4 and will be approved following a month of public consultations on Dec. 9.

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