(Short version: I recommend all Council candidates - and all city hall watchers for that matter - check out Lorne Cutler's seminar on municipal finance, then contact him by email firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 613-725-9147 to book a training session)
My goal for OttWatch is to make it easier for residents (and councillors for that matter) to access City information. The long term goal is to help residents get more directly involved in city decision making. This requires fusing the ability to access information with the ability to understand it too.
For example, the city provided opendata for the 2014 draft budget. It comes in two parts: tax supported and rate supported spreadsheets. Fantastic, residents now have access to some budget data. But - doubled Excel spreadsheets - what does it mean!?
What's the difference between "rate supported" and "tax supported" budget line items? What is a sinking fund? What is a debenture? How are development charges collected? How does the city treat property taxes of commercial property vs. farmland vs. new condos vs. legacy rental apartments?
In Lorne's words, emphasis mine:
The City of Ottawa is a major financial enterprise with assets of over $14 billion and annual expenditures of almost $3 billion. Regardless of your position on the issues and your political viewpoint, it is critical that you have the tools to understand the financial issues associated with running a big city. Being able to read a budget and financial statements, appreciating the relationship between credit ratings and interest rates, knowing when to consider a Public Private Partnership, or knowing what tough financial questions to ask when considering a major capital expenditure or program will be critical in helping you get elected this October and hit the ground running.
I want every winning councillor to fully understand municipal finance. I'd also love it if more regular folks took up the topic, all the better to put hard questions to our representatives over the course of the next 4-year term of Council.
So to all 2014 Candidates, I recommend you take Lorne's seminar. The city is a complicated beast - you'd do well by your future constituents if you learn as much about Ottawa's finances as you can right now.
Note: I make up how I do things on OttWatch as I go. As this is the first time I've posted an endorsement of something I wanted to point out I'm promoting Lorne's course for free, in case anyone was wondering.