City, province trade barbs as budget dispute continues

A budget dispute between the City of Winnipeg and the province is raging on as leaders continue to lock horns over millions in provincial funding for city projects.

Winnipeg mayor says province hasn't sent money for 2018 projects; province says city sent incorrect invoices

Manitoba Municipal Relations Minister Jeff Wharton said Wednesday the city submitted incorrect invoices for road projects from 2018. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

A budget dispute between the City of Winnipeg and the province is raging on as leaders continue to lock horns over millions in provincial funding for city projects.

Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman said at a news conference Wednesday the province has yet to hand over more than $89 million in funding for city projects from 2018, and said the province is raising concerns about the budget from that year that should have been raised months ago.

In the past two weeks, Bowman said the city has received two letters from the province about how the city spent provincial money that year, despite the fact the city sent budget documents to provincial officials in 2017.

He said the city built its 2018 budget counting on $50 million in provincial money for road projects as part of a five-year, $250-million agreement with the former NDP government. That agreement, signed in 2014, was set to end that year, he said.

But Manitoba Municipal Relations Minister Jeff Wharton said at a separate news conference Wednesday the province has already met and exceeded the $250-million commitment.

Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman said the province hasn't given the city $89 million in funding from 2018. (Gary Solilak/CBC)

He also accused the city of submitting incorrect invoices to the province that violated provincial-municipal funding arrangements.

Wharton said some of the invoices sought 100 per cent provincial funding for roadwork, despite an agreement between the governments to split costs 50/50.

"Our department is working with the city, again, collaboratively, to ensure that those invoices are accurate," Wharton said.

"And if they're not, then we need to have continued discussions to ensure that we reach our [commitment of] up to $83.6 million for funding for the city in [20]18."

Lack of clarity on funding rules: Bowman

Bowman said communication from the province hasn't been clear about how much independence the city has in spending money allocated by the province to municipal operations, despite a campaign promise to give municipalities more say.

"They've indicated certainly in very strong terms recently in their correspondence that despite that commitment, that it hinges on mutual agreement," Bowman said Wednesday.

"If there is any question or any concerns about the allocation and the reliance on provincial dollars to support city building efforts, it would've been good to receive clarity [before] January of 2019, after those moneys had been expended and relied upon."

The dispute became public on Friday when the city published a report claiming Manitoba wants to redeploy a $34-million contribution to upgrades at the North End Water Pollution Control Centre.

Winnipeg has spent millions of dollars on sewer system upgrades, with more needed, including separating combined sewage pipes into two systems for storm runoff and wastewater. (Jacques Marcoux/CBC)

Bowman said at the time the province wants to redirect that money to other infrastructure projects it's already agreed to fund, like the Waverley underpass and transit projects. On Wednesday, he said moving it around would leave the city with a hole in its bottom line.

But Wharton said that cash is provincial money that has sat unused for years, and the wastewater treatment plant is still years away from completion

"If that's going to be several years down the road, it would be an option to move that $34 million into projects now, instead of down the road," he said.

Bowman said the dispute highlights the need for clear communication from the province to the city about cash flow.

He's requested a meeting with Premier Brian Pallister to discuss the issue.

With files from Bartley Kives and Sean Kavanagh