Manitoba

City of Winnipeg losing $12M each month due to COVID-19 pandemic, mayor says

The City of Winnipeg is losing $12 million in revenue per month because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Mayor Brian Bowman said on CBC's Power & Politics Friday.

Winnipeg Transit lost $6M from low ridership, another $6M lost 'elsewhere': Bowman

Mayor Brian Bowman says the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in a $12-million drop in revenue in the first month. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

The City of Winnipeg is losing $12 million in revenue per month because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Mayor Brian Bowman said on CBC's Power & Politics Friday.

The fear of contracting or spreading the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 is keeping many people indoors, and public health officials are advising people to only leave their homes when necessary. This is resulting in services such as Winnipeg Transit to hemorrhage money, because nobody is using them. 

Transit lost $6 million because of low ridership, and the city lost another $6 million "elsewhere," according to Bowman.

"The longer this goes, the more that it's going to put pressure on our overall operating and other budgets," Bowman said.

Municipal governments in Manitoba are not allowed to borrow money for their operations, and they are mandated to balance their budgets every year, he noted.

"This is putting a squeeze on us unlike any other situation we face before. And what is also different is we just don't have the levers … PST, GST, income tax," he said.

"When other levels of government cash in, in good economic times, there's a corresponding obligation and ability to help in times like this, that we simply don't have."

Even if the balanced budget legislation was lifted temporarily, Bowman said the city's only way to find additional dollars would be by raising property taxes, which he doesn't want to do.

"The last thing that would help property owners and businesses coming out of this, in terms of economic recovery, would be to double down and impose even more tax burden on them."

If there isn't some kind of help that comes soon, more layoffs could be on the way, Bowman added.

The city laid off 674 seasonal workers earlier this week, and it's also looking at possible cuts to Winnipeg Transit.

Letter from province

"The longer this goes on, the tighter the squeeze it will be for all of us. So even if we don't have cash in hand from the federal government, just to have a commitment and indication could certainly help with the decisions that we'll need to make in order to meet our balanced budget legislation," said Bowman.

"Like other provinces, we're getting no indication from our provincial government that there will be any financial support and in fact, they're trying to recommend that we cut deeper right now."

According to Bowman, all Manitoba mayors received a letter from the province on Thursday, implying that cuts need to be made.

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister has said on several occasions that responding to the COVID-19 pandemic will cost billions of dollars, and that the province is trying to save money wherever it can, so it can put it toward critical services. Given that, Bowman is not expecting any support to come from the province.

The city's budget is balanced and its financial situation is OK, Bowman said, but "our flexibility and ability to deal with this is limited based on the financial structures that are in place for municipalities."

With files from CBC's Power & Politics

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