Watson finds $2M for cops, potholes
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.
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.