City property-tax hike and roadwork budget receive rough ride
Councillors, construction lobby group complain tax-hike revenue dedicated for roads is going elsewhere
Two councillors unaligned with Mayor Brian Bowman joined forces with a construction lobby group to assail Winnipeg's plan to reduce infrastructure spending next year and redirect property-tax revenue that was supposed to be spent on roads.
The preliminary version of Winnipeg's budget calls for $318 million in tax-supported capital spending in 2017, a drop of $51 million from 2016. It also calls for the city to transfer $54 million from the operating budget to the capital budget, a reduction of $19 million over the previous year.
Some infrastructure projects, such as the reopening of Portage & Main, are on hold to prevent the need to increase property taxes above a hike of 2.33 percentage points. The city also plans to keep roadwork funding static at $105 million, even though the proceeds of two percentage points of that tax hike — about $11 million — were supposed to be dedicated to new roadwork.
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This plan received a rough ride at a Tuesday-morning meeting of council's public works committee, where the public works and Winnipeg Transit department budgets are under review.
Transcona Coun. Russ Wyatt, one of the architects of the city's plan to dedicate tax-hike revenue to roadwork, said the city is now misleading taxpayers about the nature of the property-tax hike.
"We're raising taxes once again and you're not putting it where you said it would go," Wyatt told the committee, calling on Bowman to be more transparent about the property-tax hike.
Mynarksi Coun. Ross Eadie also appeared before the committee to repeat his complaint the mayor says the city is collecting more money for roads when in fact it's using the revenue cover the operating budget.
Chris Lorenc of the Manitoba Heavy Construction Industry, who was supportive of Bowman's first two budgets, said he was disappointed this budget abandons the city's three-year-old program of actually dedicating the proceeds of property-tax hikes to infrastructure.
"It's being abandoned without full disclosure in our opinion of any reason or rational of any understanding of the consequence of those changes," Lorenc said following his presentation.
The budget will be scrutinized by councillors for another two weeks before a final vote slated for Dec. 13.