Winnipeg city council approves property tax hike
City of Winnipeg councillors have adopted the 2014 budget, which the City said in a news release allows for a record $84.2 million to be invested in local and regional street renewal.
The combined operating budget comes to $1.5 billion in expenditures for services, programs and infrastructure improvements.
It includes a general property tax increase of 2.95 per cent.
Highlights of the approved budget include:
- Local and regional streets, sidewalks, back lanes
- New Regional Street Renewal Reserve will provide an enhanced program of $14.3 million, for a total of $35.3 million in 2014 for regional street repair
- The Local Street Renewal Reserve will provide an enhanced program of $18.2 million, for a total of $48.9 million in 2014 for local streets, back lanes and sidewalks
- Total local and regional street renewal is $84.2 million in 2014, an increase of $53.3 million or 173 per cent compared to 2012, prior to the creation of these street renewal reserves Parks and recreation, community services
Money for parks and recreation
The budget also contains a new grant to the YMCA-YWCA for what the city calls "a new strategic partnership" for the construction of three new facilities over the next 11 years.
The grant is subject to one-third cost-sharing between the City, Province of Manitoba and YMCA-YWCA of Winnipeg.
The city budget also pledges $6.3 million for a projects such as a new spray pad at Machray Park, renovations and new indoor spray pad at Seven Oaks Indoor Pool, and the Transcona Centennial Pool project, which includes the construction of a new outdoor pool.
The city has confirmed its contribution of $1.7 million for the aging Sherbrook Pool, with the rest to come from the province and private/not-for-profit groups.
The budget also allocates $1 million to improve athletic fields, including $600,000 for Art McOuat Memorial Park in St. Boniface.
Libraries get a boost, with the budget for library materials up by 11 per cent, or $300,000.
The city is also creating a new aboriginal youth training program, to train youth in contractor trades involving roads and bridges, tapping into opportunities in the coming infrastructure spending.
Union warns of impact
The head of the union representing city workers, CUPE 500, said the budget could have a major impact on services in Winnipeg.
The union is critical of the cuts outlined in the budget, including up to 25 city positions, and 3.5 days of mandatory unpaid leave for non-essential city workers over Christmas in 2014.
CUPE 500 president Mike Davidson said the city has yet to specify which workers are non-essential, and that leaves a lot of questions.
"Traffic signals, watermain breaks. I mean the fire department sends out a truck that there's no water that comes out of the hydrant, we've got a real problem here," he said. "You need a certain complement of staff to run this city and that's the bottom line."
Davidson said since city departments are already short-staffed, it's a question of what will be cancelled.
"All the tournaments and arenas, you're going to cancel down programming for seniors?" he said. "The list goes on and on. You going to shut down 3-1-1? You're going to shut down access to cemeteries? We have a windstorm, there's no forestry crew because they're all at home? Like come on, you can't run a city under these conditions."
Mayor defends need for tax hike
Sam Katz said the city's hands were tied when it came to paying for road repairs.
"We have tried to get a fair share of revenue from the other level of government," he said, in a likely jab at the province. "We've been unsuccessful, so to be very frank with you, there is no other choice but to [raise taxes]. We've looked at all the other options."
Katz said Winnipeggers told the city in no uncertain terms, they want the roads fixed.
"Quite often you will see people saying I don't mind paying for it if I know the money is going there," he said.
Coun. John Orlikow, who has been critical of the budget, said it had political underpinnings.
"This is a pre-election budget," he said.
Mayoral hopefuls Gord Steeves, a former city councillor and former NDP MP Judy Wasylycia-Leis watched council proceedings from the public gallery.