Winnipeg city council passes 2019 budget with minor tweaks
Arts cut to be spread out over 2 years, new funding for emerald ash borer manager included in spending plan
Winnipeg homeowners will pay 2.33 per cent more in property tax and see a cut to road repairs in the 2019 budget passed by city council at a special meeting Wednesday.
The 2.33 per cent tax increase will mean the average household will pay about $40 more on their property tax bill. The money is slated to go to infrastructure spending.
"We have to build this city for the future," said Mayor Brian Bowman. "This budget moves us in the right direction but not as fast as I'd like in terms of [road spending]."
There is no frontage levy increase in 2019 and there are no new fees or charges included in the budget.
While tweaks were made to the spending plan since it was tabled March 1, the bulk of the document remains unchanged.
The budget now includes money to hire a supervisor of urban forestry in the public works department to plan and oversee the city's response to the emerald ash borer — an insect with a history of devastating populations of ash trees.
The budget will also see the one-time $500,000 funding cut to the Winnipeg Arts Council's public art program, which was proposed in the initial budget, spread out over two years — a $250,000 cut in 2019 and the same in 2020.
Winnipeg plans to spend $86 million fixing its roads in 2019, down $30 million from the $116 million budgeted last year. The cut means spending on repairs for residential streets and lanes will be frozen this year.
Bowman argues the province still owes Winnipeg $40 million in road renewal funding, and says that shortfall is behind the reduction in this year's road spending.
2.33% hikes may not be sustainable: Bowman
The province's Progressive Conservative government denies any obligation to pay the $40 million and says there was a political commitment — by the previous NDP government — to fund a five-year roads plan.
"None of these political commitments bound a successor government," provincial Municipal Relations Minister Jeff Wharton said in an open letter to Bowman on Monday.
City council finance chair Scott Gillingham (St. James) argues the Tory government, by funding the third and fourth years of the five-year program, committed itself to the road renewal funding plan for its fifth year.
During the 2018 mayoral campaign, Bowman pledged to keep property tax increases to 2.33 per cent per year over the next four years — provided the province didn't reduce its funding to the city.
He said Wednesday property taxes may go up more than that in the coming years if the city does not get more help from Manitoba.
"I'm unsure whether this is a sustainable approach going forward," he said. "My campaign commitment was 2.33 per cent unless there's new incremental cuts from the province."
The budget also includes a promise of a low-income bus pass, money for bus safety improvements and a freeze on transit fares.
Both the operating and capital budgets for 2019 were approved in an 11-5 vote at Wednesday's meeting.
Councillors Kevin Klein (Charleswood–Tuxedo–Westwood), Janice Lukes (Waverley West), Shawn Nason (Transcona), Ross Eadie (Mynarski) and Jason Schreyer (Elmwood) voted against the plan.
A separate clause in the budget proposed using part of the 2.33 per cent property tax increase to fix bridges, along with roads and building rapid transit. The clause was approved in a 12-4 vote.
With files from Bartley Kives