Wat­son finds $2M for cops, pot­holes

Ottawa Citizen - - FRONT PAGE - DAVID REEVELY dreevely@post­media.com Twit­ter.com/davidreevely

In barely a week, Mayor Jim Wat­son has found more than $2 mil­lion to fill more pot­holes, hire more po­lice of­fi­cers and study a light-rail ex­ten­sion to Bar­rhaven. An elec­tion is in the air.

The pot­hole money is skimmed from cash that turned out not to be needed for a bunch of un­der­bud­get cap­i­tal projects. Rather than putting the money into re­serves, the city’s go­ing to spend $1 mil­lion more on su­per­fi­cial road re­pairs — on top of the $10 mil­lion city coun­cil­lors de­cided to spend out of last year’s sur­plus back be­fore Christ­mas, and the reg­u­lar $8-mil­lion pot­hole bud­get.

Crum­bling as­phalt and con­crete are very vis­i­ble signs of a mu­nic­i­pal govern­ment that’s not do­ing its most ba­sic work and, af­ter eight years of thrift, Ot­tawa has a whole lot of them. Throw in a sense that gun crime is out of con­trol and it might start look­ing like who­ever’s in charge has let some things slip.

The po­lice of­fi­cers, 10 of them, are to be hired on spec, an­tic­i­pat­ing that in 2019 the fed­eral govern­ment will cover their salaries as part of a na­tional plan to fight guns and gangs.

The city’s tak­ing an ed­u­cated guess at how much money it’ll get, with de­tails of the plan still to be worked out. But Wat­son and Coun. Eli El-Chan­tiry, who chairs Ot­tawa’s po­lice board, have de­cided to spend $660,000 to cover their salaries and equip­ment costs from Oc­to­ber to De­cem­ber, and pre­sum­ably the same again for Jan­uary through March.

“These of­fi­cers would as­sist with con­duct­ing shoot­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tions, proac­tive covert in­ves­ti­ga­tions into peo­ple and groups in­volved in shoot­ings, and com­mu­nity-based en­force­ment/sup­pres­sion ini­tia­tives with a fo­cus on preven­tion and in­ter­ven­tion ac­tiv­i­ties,” Wat­son and El-Chan­tiry wrote to city coun­cil­lors in a Tues­day-night memo.

They’ll be hired as “di­rect en­try” of­fi­cers, not fresh re­cruits, which means they’ll be ex­pe­ri­enced cops poached from other po­lice forces’ anti-gang ef­forts. Ex­actly what the fed­eral govern­ment had in mind for its money, no doubt.

And then there’s the train to Bar­rhaven. That’s a $600,000 bud­get item to study the prospect of con­vert­ing the busway be­tween Al­go­nquin Col­lege and south Ne­pean to rail, per­haps in stages. (The soon­est any con­struc­tion stands any chance of be­gin­ning is 2022 but that’s im­prob­a­bly early.) The city re­fused to do the same work for an LRT ex­ten­sion from Moodie Drive into Kanata un­til the fed­eral govern­ment agreed to cover half the cost, but sud­denly there’s money for a Bar­rhaven ver­sion just sit­ting there in the city’s ac­counts. So weird.

In­ci­den­tally, the most im­por­tant pro­vin­cial politi­cian here­abouts is now Ne­pean Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tive MPP Lisa MacLeod, whose rid­ing in­cludes Bar­rhaven. One of her closer friends on city coun­cil is Jan Harder, the coun­cil­lor for Bar­rhaven; MacLeod was an aide to Harder be­fore seek­ing of­fice her­self.

“Smart move,” MacLeod tweeted Wed­nes­day morn­ing, af­ter Wat­son’s of­fice re­vealed the scheme for the Bar­rhaven study in a news re­lease.

On the other side of the ledger — avoid­ing trou­ble — the city’s put off adding thou­sands of prop­er­ties to its her­itage reg­is­ter, a project it’s been work­ing on since 2015 when city coun­cil de­cided it should get a han­dle on Ot­tawa’s im­por­tant build­ings.

Putting a prop­erty on the reg­is­ter isn’t the same as cov­er­ing it with a full-blown her­itage des­ig­na­tion: the only thing it does is re­quire an owner to give the city two months’ no­tice be­fore tear­ing the place down. Other than that, you can do any­thing you want to a build­ing that’s on the reg­is­ter. Paint it, gut it, put an ad­di­tion on it, change the porch.

The whole project was sup­posed to be tied up with a bow by the end of this year, ac­cord­ing to the vote city coun­cil took three years ago — ev­ery build­ing checked over in ev­ery neigh­bour­hood in Ot­tawa, from Con­stance Bay to Cum­ber­land. In­stead, city hall’s plan­ning de­part­ment has gone through just four neigh­bour­hoods: Low­er­town, Sandy Hill, Old Ot­tawa East and Old Ot­tawa South.

Nine more cen­tral dis­tricts be­tween West­boro and Over­brook are nearly done. No­tices went out telling own­ers if their prop­er­ties were due for list­ing at a meet­ing at the end of this month.

But some own­ers re­sist hav­ing their homes listed, for fear it’ll mean trou­ble later. Most freak out upon get­ting the no­tices. It’s bad pol­i­tics to freak out thou­sands of home­own­ers months be­fore an elec­tion. More no­tices fol­lowed, de­lay­ing the votes in­def­i­nitely. The city says it got “hun­dreds of re­sponses” to the most re­cent wave of no­tices and needs to think things through a bit longer.

“As for the leg­isla­tive process, new dates will be sched­uled in late fall,” says the city’s com­mu­ni­ca­tions de­part­ment, at­tribut­ing the in­for­ma­tion to Dana Collings, a pro­gram man­ager re­spon­si­ble for her­itage and ur­ban de­sign. The city elec­tion is Oct. 22.

With the clock tick­ing to­ward city coun­cil’s weeks-long sum­mer break, Wat­son’s shep­herded all the nec­es­sary mo­tions and votes so he can cam­paign this sum­mer claim­ing ac­tion on bad roads and side­walks, crime, and tran­sit in the sub­urbs — and with­out hav­ing to ex­plain what the heck the her­itage reg­istry is when he knocks on doors in cen­tral neigh­bour­hoods.

JEAN LEVAC

Mayor Jim Wat­son, right, has an­nounced plans to spend more than $2 mil­lion to fill pot­holes, hire 10 ad­di­tional po­lice of­fi­cers, and con­duct a light-rail ex­ten­sion study for a train to Bar­rhaven. On the other side of the ledger, the city has put off adding thou­sands of prop­er­ties to its her­itage reg­is­ter.

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