Gillingham offers plans for Chief Peguis Trail, Kenaston Boulevard as mayoral race heats up
Motkaluk promises property tax reform, Bokhari calls for testing water for asbestos
A Winnipeg mayoral candidate is promising to move forward with two long-planned major infrastructure projects despite the city's difficult financial circumstances.
Scott Gillingham said Monday the widening of Kenaston Boulevard from Taylor Avenue to Ness Avenue and the extension of Chief Peguis Trail west from Main Street to Route 90 will increase the city's competitiveness.
"I'm committing as mayor to lead the city and city council to proceed with those next steps for Chief Peguis west extension and Route 90 Kenaston widening between 2023 and 2026, with the aggressive goal of having tenders done and work proceeding on both projects by 2026," he said at an announcement outside city hall.
Although he acknowledged the city faces a cash crunch due to COVID-19, last winter's heavier-than-normal snowfall and high inflation, Gillingham says the projects would be worth the additional debt and tax increases needed to pay for them.
"Our biggest challenges are short term and especially on the operating [budget] side," he said.
"On the capital side, it's responsible to use debt for major, long-term, intergenerational capital projects, especially if they increase our city's economic strength and competitiveness."
Both projects are essential to the movement of trade goods and people in the city, Gillingham said. They are also both on the city's infrastructure priorities list, but not currently in the capital plan.
Early estimates for both projects peg their prices at more than $500 million each. Before the city can proceed with those projects, it needs to update their designs to better assess their full costs, Gillingham said.
He also committed to completing a business-case study for both projects in order to secure provincial and federal funding, followed by issuing tenders for contractors to bid on.
Winnipeg has a self-imposed debt limit of 90 per cent of its annual revenue, and the current debt level is close to 80 per cent.
The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, heavier-than-normal snowfall and high inflation have all hurt the city's revenue, Gillingham said.
"But we won't escape the economic shadow by holding back investment in our city's competitiveness. I believe we must invest," he said.
To fund the projects, Gillingham committed to bring in a dedicated property tax increase in 2023.
"Our debt capacity increases if our revenues increase. Our debt room goes up if our revenues go up," he said.
Building the two projects will enhance the economic viability of the multi-modal transportation hub at Centre Port, as well as the Naawi-Oodena development on the former Kapyong Barracks site, Gillingham said. They will also compliment the major redevelopment of the Perimeter Highway the Manitoba government is undertaking.
The widening of Kenaston Boulevard would require further expropriations or leases of land on either side. The city is in negotiations with the Treaty One partners in the Naawi-Oodena development, and the updated design Gillingham has promised would include details of how much expropriated land would be needed, he said.
This is the latest in a string of infrastructure-related promises Gillingham has been making since last week.
He made his promise standing beside three fellow city council members: Jeff Browaty, Markus Chambers and Janice Lukes. Each spoke in favour of Gillingham's plan.
This is the second time during this campaign that a mayoral candidate has pledged to extend Chief Peguis — Jenny Motkaluk made the same promise last week.
Property taxes, asbestos in water
Two other mayoral candidates made announcements Monday morning on the issues of taxes and drinking water safety.
Jenny Motkaluk promised to not increase taxes on property owners who make improvements that increase the assessed value of their homes, repeating a pledge she made during her first run for mayor in 2018.
"So when I'm mayor of Winnipeg, I'm encouraging you build the deck, add the garage and finish the basement, because as mayor, I will restore the incentive for homeowners to invest in their homes," she said.
The City of Winnipeg charter, a piece of provincial legislation, requires it to tax properties based on their assessed value. Motkaluk proposed using section 219 of the charter, allowing the city to establish tax rebates and credits, to keep tax bills from rising beyond the city-wide prescribed property tax increase as long as the current owners are living in the house.
Motkaluk says her proposal is revenue neutral. To make up for the revenue the city would have otherwise received by raising taxes, Motkaluk wants to freeze the wages of all city workers making more than $75,000 a year.
Earlier on Monday, Rana Bokhari said she would resume testing for asbestos in water, something the city has not done since the mid-1990s.
Asbestos, a naturally occurring material used to strengthen concrete pipes throughout the world, has been linked to asbestosis, a form of lung cancer.
There are several areas of the city where testing had shown high levels of asbestos fibres in the water, Bokhari said.
"Resuming that [testing] will give Winnipeggers the autonomy and the decision-making power to protect their families. I truly believe that this is a health concern," she said.
Health Canada has concluded that there is "no consistent, convincing evidence that asbestos ingested through water is harmful to your health" and concluded that no guideline is required. The World Health Organization made the same conclusion.
There is currently less than 720 kilometres of asbestos pipe in the city and that number diminishes every year as workers replace water mains, says Lisa Marquardson, a business communications co-ordinator with the water and waste department.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency doesn't have any guidelines for the amount of asbestos fibres ingested if they are shorter than 10 micrometres. If they are longer than that, the recommended limit is 7 million fibres per litre.
Marquardson says the city discontinued testing for asbestos in 1995 because after 11 years of testing, no fibres longer than 10 micrometres were ever found.
"Given the lack of evidence of negative outcomes from ingesting asbestos, and the fact that our drinking water always met the United States Environmental Protection Agency, World Health Organization, Health Canada and the Province of Manitoba standards, testing was discontinued," she said in an email.
Gillingham, Motkaluk and Bokhari are among 15 people registered to run for mayor in the civic election on Oct. 26. The other candidates are Idris Adelakun, Chris Clacio, Vincent Gabriele, Shaun Loney, Kevin Klein, Glen Murray, Robert-Falcon Ouellette, Jessica Peebles, Rick Shone, Govind Thawani, Desmond Thomas and Don Woodstock.