Manitoba

Winnipeg budget: Major projects delayed to keep taxes down

Winnipeg's road-repair budget and almost all city services will survive the budget axe in 2017 at the expense of new significant infrastructure investments.

Winnipeg's 2017 budget calls for $24M spending hike on services, $51M drop on infrastructure spending

Mayor Brian Bowman has unveiled a preliminary budget for next year that limits the growth in spending on city services to $24 million, the smallest spending hike in more than a decade. 1:47

Winnipeg's road-repair budget and almost all city services will survive the budget axe in 2017 at the expense of new significant infrastructure investments.

Mayor Brian Bowman has unveiled a preliminary budget for next year that limits the growth in spending on city services to $24 million, the smallest spending hike in more than a decade.

The city's operating budget for 2017 will be $1.08 billion, a 2.3 per cent hike from the $1.06 billion the city will end up spending this year on everything from policing to insect control to snow removal.

But the tax-supported portion of the city's capital budget — which is the money the city spends on new roads and bridges, major repairs and equipment purchases  — is down $51 million to $318 million. As well, the amount of actual cash the city plans to transfer over to the infrastructure-spending side of the budget is down $19 million.

Bowman has in effect decided to hold off on embarking on many new infrastructure projects, including the reopening of Portage and Main to pedestrians, in order to keep spending on services intact and continue putting $105 million into road renewal.

"We're not building The Simpsons' monorail," Bowman quipped as he described the budget as fiscally prudent.

Bowman, who campaigned for mayor on a promise to reopen the Portage Avenue and Main Street intersection to pedestrians, said earlier this year he wanted to see that happen by July, when the Canada Summer Games begin in Winnipeg. 

That no longer appears possible.

"It's premature to put anything in the budget when those discussions are happening with property owners," the mayor said about Portage and Main. "As long as those discussions are happening in a positive way, we'll take the time that's required."

The deferral of other infrastructure projects that were planned, including fire-paramedic station maintenance and library refurbishments, allowed the city to spend $23 million more on the operating budget.

New projects that will be funded in 2017 include a $53-million transit-garage expansion, a $20-million police station somewhere on the north side of the city, the $5.2-million Tache Promenade in St. Boniface and $4.1 million worth of design work for a new south Winnipeg recreational facility.

The biggest project in the $105-million road-repair budget is a $6.8-million reconstruction of Ellice Avenue within the West End. Spending on new bike-and-pedestrian routes will rise to $5.7 million from $4.1 million in 2016.

Total property taxes collected by the city will once again rise 2.33 per cent, a move that will raise $20 milllion more for the city in combination with tax revenue from newly constructed properties. This will work out to a municipal-tax hike of $38.51 for the owner of a 1,200-square-foot home.

There won't be another frontage levy hike, so homeowners will not be hit with a double whammy from the city in 2017.

As well, the city is only expecting to collect $1 million from its new growth fees next year, mainly because they do not take effect until May 1 in specific areas at the fringes of the city and developers will enjoy a six-month grace period.

Spending hikes on emergency services are also modest, with the police and fire-paramedic services receiving $7 million and $9 million more next year, respectively.

The police budget is now $288 million, while the fire-paramedic service costs the city $199 million. Together, the two departments account for 45 per cent of the city's $1.08-billion operating budget. 

Winnipeg Police Association president Moe Sabourin said he would have liked to see a greater increase to the police budget. 

"Criminals don't take into account inflation rates when they are planning to do their crimes, so we are definitely concerned this is going to cause a decrease in services to the citizens of Winnipeg," he said.

"This is the most money we've ever given the police," police-board chair Jeff Browaty (North Kildonan) said in response.

Mynarski Coun. Ross Eadie says the mayor is playing a shell game. (Trevor Brine/CBC News)
Mynarski Coun. Ross Eadie was also critical of the budget, arguing the road-repair budget actually amounts to a cut, as inflation means $105 million won't go as far this year.

"There is a shell game going on, and the mayor is not going to meet his promise to fix the roads in an incremental way," said Eadie, noting the road-repair budget remains static at $105 million when two percentage points of the city's annual tax increase are supposed to be devoted to road repairs.

Eadie also said the mayor has broken his promise to limit tax hikes to the rate of inflation, which he cited as 1.4 per cent, not 2.33 per cent.

The budget will be debated over the next three weeks. Council will vote on it on Dec. 13.


2017 Winnipeg budget highlights

Operating budget (spending on city services): $1.08 billion, up $24 million from $1.06 billion in 2016. Smallest spending hike since early years of the Sam Katz administration.

Capital budget (spending on infrastructure and equipment): $318 million, down $51 million from $369 million in 2016. 

Cash to capital (transfer from operating to capital budget): $54 million, down $19 million from $75 million in 2016. First major drop in recent memory.

Property-tax hike: 2.33 per cent, unchanged from 2016.

Projected property-tax haul in 2017: $569 million, up $20 million from $549 million in 2016. This is the result of the hike and new properties coming on line.

Frontage-levy hike: Not happening this year.

Growth-fee revenue: $1 million expected from new "impact fee."

Police budget: $288 million, up $7 million from $281 million in 2016.

Fire-paramedic budget: $199 million, up $9 million from $190 million in 2016

​Road-repair budget: $105 million, unchanged from 2016. This includes $6.3 million to rebuild Ellice Avenue between Erin Street and Dominion Street.

Portage and Main reopening: Not in the budget. Won't happen before 2018.

Transit garage expansion: $53 million to expand Fort Rouge garage, as announced earlier in November.

North District police station: $20 million this year to replace aging District 3 station on Hartford Avenue. This does not include $3 million already spent on the project.

Tache Promenade: $5.2 million for new St. Boniface walkway.

South Winnipeg recreation facility: $4.1 million to begin planning and designing a new rec centre on south side of the city.

About the Author

Bartley Kives

Reporter, CBC Manitoba

Reporter Bartley Kives joined CBC Manitoba in 2016. Prior to that, he spent three years at the Winnipeg Sun and 18 at the Winnipeg Free Press, writing about politics, music, food and outdoor recreation. He's the author of the Canadian bestseller A Daytripper's Guide to Manitoba: Exploring Canada's Undiscovered Province and co-author of both Stuck in the Middle: Dissenting Views of Winnipeg and Stuck In The Middle 2: Defining Views of Manitoba. His work has also appeared in publications such as the Guardian and Explore magazine.