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City of Winnipeg departments propose closing fire hall, libraries and pools amid budget caps

Winnipeg fire chief John Lane (centre) speaks at a city council committee meeting Saturday. .
Winnipeg fire chief John Lane (centre) speaks at a city council committee meeting Saturday. . Amber McGuckin/Global News

City departments are again proposing significant cuts as Winnipeg looks to save money in a tight budget year.

The cuts, proposed at an unusual Saturday city council committee meeting, would include closing a fire hall, cutting firefighter positions and shutting down libraries and pools.

At a special meeting of the standing policy committee on protection, community services and parks, three departments gave presentations.

The Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service department’s budget was capped at a two per cent increase.

Chief John Lane says the department suggests closing the Marion Street station and getting rid of 18 firefighter positions to fit the budget.

Lane says the move would make the budget work but there would be longer wait times. He says the impact would be felt more during major events like the Thanksgiving winter storm.

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“[This] means greater risk for the city,” Lane said. “It’s our second-least busy station in the city. But I will say certainly the calls in the immediate area… those calls will unquestionably receive a slower service.”

READ MORE: ‘Basically, we’ve run out of money’ — University of Winnipeg prof on city budget drama

He said there were more than 200 calls last year where that station would have been the first one responding.

“If you’re the one waiting for that engine, it can be a significant event,” he said.

Community services department officials brought forward a list of 21 things they say would need to be cut to meet its 0.5 per cent budget increase cap. Director Cindy Fernandes says drastic cuts would be necessary to manage mandated salary and benefit increases for staff.

The list of proposed service cuts includes:

  • Shutting down the Eldon Ross Indoor Pool, Kinsman Sherbrook Pool and Transcona Centennial Indoor Pool.
  • Closing the Peguis Trail Health and Fitness Centre.
  • Keeping the Terry Sawchuck Arena closed.
  • Reducing the number of wading pools from 81 to 43.
  • Shutting down the Happyland and Windsor Park outdoor pools.
  • Closing down the Westwood, Fort Garry and West Kildonan libraries.
  • Closing libraries on Sundays and at 8 p.m. on all other days.
  • Reducing leisure guide activities by 50 per cent, excluding learn to swim programs.
  • Reducing some grants.

READ MORE: Winnipeg Transit proposing major service, route cuts after city caps budget

The public works department has a capped 1.5 per cent increase as its target. Its budget recommendations include cancelling athletic field improvement projects like replacing and sodding fields, cancelling park building upgrades, cancelling the boat dock and launch study, and reducing funding for urban forest enhancements in 2024 and 2025.

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All of the changes would require council approval. The departmental draft budget presentations are just the first step in the new multi-year budget process. Public delegations will begin in December, then city council committees will make recommendations to the budget working group. The budget will then be tabled in February and voted on before March 31.

Mynarski Councillor Ross Eadie, who sits on the protection, community services and parks committee, didn’t mince words when asked about the proposed cuts.

“The mayor lied. He knew damn well what’s coming up, he knew it. He knew what was coming. This budget process here, we’re being hit now,” Eadie said.

“We’re going to have to raise property taxes to keep recreation, to keep prevention kind of stuff, grants to important community groups who are working with youth and seniors and adults. Like, it costs money, it’s as simple as that,” he said.

Budget 2019 shows no surprises for Winnipeg Transit
Budget 2019 shows no surprises for Winnipeg Transit