Winnipeg holds taxes at 2.33 per cent, lowers road spending by $29M
The City tabled its preliminary capital and operating budgets Friday, and some of the highlights include a regular tax rise, but a decrease in roads spending by $29.6 million to $86.4 million.
Despite hints of a massive property tax increase, Mayor Brian Bowman said it wasn’t fair for city taxpayers to shoulder an $85 million funding shortfall, which he put squarely in the pockets of the province.
“I support their quest to return their balanced budget and in doing so, follow the city’s lead, but I don’t believe this should be achieved on the backs of Winnipeg property taxpayers,” he said.
“This is the city’s new reality,” he said. “I accept that reality. And our preliminary capital budget and five-year capital forecast reflects that reality in a responsible and accountable way moving forward.”
The reduced funding level for roads hasn’t been seen since the years of former mayor Sam Katz, with $84.2 spent on road infrastructure in 2014.
Noticeably absent from this year’s budget is a lack of funding for bridges, including the renewal and/or replacement of the Arlington and Louise bridges.
Despite that, future budget projections see a return to bigger spending for road renewal, counting on funding from the province and federal government.
Chris Lorenc of the Manitoba Heavy Construction Association was visibly angry over the decrease in spending.
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“If it is the intention of governments to decimate an industry as an ongoing strategy, then they’re doing exactly what they need to do,” he told reporters after the budget meeting Friday.
“The cost to maintain and repair the very infrastructure that moves people to jobs, and products to market, the very infrastructure upon what our economy generates wealth, the very infrastructure that creates the revenues to governments upon which we fund our quality of life. That should alarm everybody.”
Police and the Fire Paramedic service will see $10 million and $8 million increases respectively. Their departments make up just under half the city’s budget.
Community centres will see a big funding increase, with a doubling of money available for centres via grants to fix aging infrastructure.
Transit rates won’t go up, and a low income bus pass will be introduced next year.
Coun. Jeff Browaty said he wasn’t sold on a low-income bus pass.
“As good of a program as that may be I don’t think it’s the time for to be getting into social programming and social services.”
Mayor Bowman said it remains to be seen who will qualify for the pass.
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New safety initiatives, including shields and safety vests for transit supervisors, means the Amalgamated Transit Union is satisfied with this year’s budget, said president Aleem Chaudhary.
“The budget is addressing what we want to address. The surplus is being used towards the shields which is something we have been fighting for for almost two years.
The city’s urban forest will see renewed effort, with millions budgeted to fight invasive species, including the emerald ash borer. There are more than 356,000 ash trees in the city, 101,000 are on public property, on streets and in parks. The remaining 256,000 are on private property.
Winnipeg is near the bottom of major cities in terms of property taxes, with about a $1,700 yearly tax bill for the average home.
The budget will be debated in several meetings over the next few weeks and will go to a full council vote on March 20.
By the numbers
- Transit rates will be frozen at 2018 rates
- Low income bus pass will be introduced April 1, 2020 – 30 per cent discount first year, 40 per cent discount in 2021, and a 50 per cent discount in 2022
- Bus shields will be installed at a cost of $3.1 million
- $22.2 million for 34 new buses
- Money for electrifying the fleet, heated bus shelters and accessibility
- Money for a long-term security plan for transit
- $86.43 million total for roads
- The six-year, $976 million road renewal plan is now decreased to $801 million
- 2 per cent of the tax increase going to roads, back lanes and sidewalks
- 0.33 per cent will go to Phase II of the Southwest Rapid Transitway
- $301.4 million for police, an increase of $10 million
- $201.5 million for fire paramedic service, an increase of $8 million
- Body cameras are budgeted for 2023
Community and Rec Centres:
- $2 million available for centre projects
- A $100,000 threshold increase for project funding
- $150,000 budgeted for the decommissioning of Norwood Pool
- Transfer from the financial stabilization reserve is $10.3 million
- Operating and public safety grants still frozen at 2017 levels of $139 million
- $4.1 million for trees to manage Dutch Elm Disease and the Emerald Ash Borer, pruning and tree planting
- Business taxes to go down to 4.97 per cent from 5.14 per cent
- Vacancy management with a target of $18 million is once again a strategy to save money
- The infrastructure deficit increased to $843 million in 2018
- No increase in water and sewer rates or frontage levies
- Remaining fees and charges will increase by 1.6 per cent, the rate of inflation
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