Winnipeg councillor wants tax dollars to combat crime, addiction 'emergency'
Debate follows Eadie's call for funding dedicated to 24/7 safe spaces, recreation
As a city of Winnipeg committee looks at funding for 24/7 safe spaces as part of an illicit drug strategy, one councillor is taking the call for a response a step further.
Mynarski's Ross Eadie says a drug and alcohol fuelled wave of crime and other issues such as poverty have created an "emergency" and the city has to step up with money to fight back.
"We need to increase taxes to pay for recreation, to pay for community safety … it's time we do something," an increasingly angry Eadie said as he spoke to reporters Thursday.
Eadie said he will make two separate motions for funding this week.
The veteran councillor wants a .33 per cent property tax increase dedicated to the illicit drugs/safe spaces initiative and a further one per cent tax hike for recreation services across the city.
Both, he says, will kick-start the city's efforts to ease crime and addictions problems.
"I've been a councillor for 10 years and I've been trying to take care of this problem — I've had nothing but problems related to crime, poverty; all the addictions," Eadie fumed.
Eadie sparred with fellow councillor Janice Lukes during Thursday's meeting of the protection and community services committee, where the illicit drugs strategy was being considered.
Both agreed there is a huge problem related to drug use, poverty, crime and homelessness, but Lukes said no to a property tax increase to support the illicit drugs strategy.
The city, she said, is being asked to do too many things outside its municipal responsibilities.
"I think the city puts too much funding into social services and the province and the feds need to step up more."
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Lukes says the city already spends $45 million dedicated to a wide range of social services.
Eadie turned to Daniel Mclntyre Coun. Cindy Gilroy with the same question — would she support a dedicated tax to fund safe spaces?
"I do think we are going to prioritize … there are going to be some tough decisions [in the budget process]. But I am not there yet," Gilroy said.
The committee heard presentations supporting the illicit drug plan from grassroots community workers and academics.
"Everybody has a role to play and everyone has responsibility," said Dr. Marcia Anderson from the University of Manitoba.
"One way I would encourage the city to look at it is what downstream costs are you paying from the current action and current inaction?"
The city, Anderson says, ends up with bill for policing and other matters as a result of waiting for other levels of government to act.
Michael Redhead Champagne, who chairs 13 Moons Harm Reduction, says there are several active community groups set to help create 24/7 safe spaces and recreational alternatives, but they need current data to make decisions and start working with vulnerable people.
"It is not going to happen unless we start increasing the way that data is measured and what gets measured. Community members and those with lived experience need those numbers so we can adjust and change the way we are delivering services," he said.
Committee chair Sherri Rollins acknowledged there were significant fiscal constraints looming over every decision facing councillors these days as the city goes through a four–year budget process that has austerity as a guideline.
Departments in community services at the city are being asked to tailor their spending requests to keep within a .05 per cent increase for each of the next four years.
Rollins told reporters a tax increase to fund either community safety or recreational programs was worth considering.