Critics pan city's 'inadequate' environment budget

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Bid to dedicate staff to city's GHG reduction strategy fails

After three hours of debate and a close vote on reallocating money for two staff members dedicated to the city's greenhouse gas reduction plan, the environment committee approved its portion of the the 2018 draft budget without change Tuesday.

A number of public delegations addressed the committee Tuesday morning and accused the city of underfunding its own environmental priorities.

"This budget is inadequate," said Janice Ashworth of the Ottawa Chamber of Commerce's sustainability committee.

Over the past four years, the city has only spent $1 million on energy efficiency instead of the planned $2 million, for example. And its aggressive plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 80 per cent below 2012 levels by 2050 — a plan that falls under the city's own "energy evolution" strategy — is woefully behind schedule.​

"What we see with the 2018 budget is that it continues a trend of under-investment on this specific initiative," Robb Barnes of Ecology Ottawa told the committee. 

33 projects unfunded

The city's greenhouse gas reduction strategy includes a list of 33 projects that aren't being funded, he said; things like energy efficiency projects "that would yield not only tangible benefits from a climate lens," but also save the city money in reduced energy costs in the long term.

Ecology Ottawa was looking for $1.5 million in new money for energy evolution projects, but pointed out there's only $500,000 in new funding for grants for environmental programs.

The budget renews both $1 million in "energy management investing" for upgrading city buildings, and $500,000 for greening the city's fleet, but advocates don't consider either of these funds as additional money. ​

No dedicated staff

A number of delegations, and some committee members, argued it would be difficult to move on any additional energy evolution plans without dedicated staff.

To that end, Coun. Catherine McKenney moved a motion to use $200,000 of the $500,000 for community grants to hire two staff members to work on the strategy. It lost on a tied vote.

Coun. David Chernushenko, who chairs the committee, voted against the motion because he said he doesn't want to divert capital investment from environmental projects. He also said senior management have assured him they will be able to find more resources in the broader city public service to work on the strategy.

Although he said he believes the city's environmental plans are underfunded, Chernushenko won't be trying to find more money for those projects in the wider budget when council meets on Dec. 13.

"I don't believe anything more than additional taxation would find money for this, and my reading is there isn't the appetite for this."

Budget approved

The committee approved an increase in the operating budget of $1.2 million for a total of $45.4 million, as well as the previously reported rate increases: four per cent for drinking water rates, and five per cent for both sanitary and storm water sewer services.

McKenney and Coun. Jeff Leiper voted against the capital budget, from which they wanted to divert funds for new staff.

The energy evolution strategy was to be discussed in more detail on Tuesday afternoon by the committee.