A wide-ranging coalition of Winnipeg community groups called for city council to reconsider sweeping service cuts proposed throughout the 2020-2023 budget process at a rally in front of a city pool Wednesday.
The coalition, however, wants to see further investment in city services.
In November, city departments were tasked with keeping budgets at a 0-2 per cent increase per year during the first phases of the city’s new budget process — budget deliberations between senior city staff and council were previously conducted behind closed doors.
Instead, the city departments presented to council standing policy committees in the late fall, before the committees held public consultations on the budget proposals.
The group, Budget For All Winnipeg, rallied in front of the Kinsmen Sherbrook Pool — one of the public services potentially on the chopping block over 2020-2023.
City departments proposed the closure of three other pools, three libraries and several city arenas, as well as the elimination of a multi-family garbage pick-up contract and city staff positions as cost-saving measures, among other potential cuts.
“The diversity of viewpoints and perspectives here today all agree that the proposed cuts will hurt rather than help our city,” said Barret Miller, chair of advocacy group Friends of Sherbrook Pool.
The rally included representatives from church groups, activists and other advocacy organizations.
“Mayor Bowman, city council, we need a budget that serves people,” said Joe Curnow, an organizer with Millennium For All, a group opposed to increased security at Winnipeg’s downtown library.
“We need investment, not cuts.”
Buck Doyle, a representative from advocacy group Winnipeg Police Cause Harm spoke, suggested the city reallocate the police budget — which represented about 27 per cent of the city’s 2019 operating budget overall, at $301.4 million — to prevent service cuts.
The Manitoba director for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, Molly McCracken, pointed to a need for the city to increase its revenue rather than slash services, in line with the centre’s suggestions in its alternative municipal budget presented in 2018.
Those include raising property taxes above a cap of 2.33 per cent a year, introducing a commuter charge and increasing taxes on surface parking lots and vacant lots.
Mayor Brian Bowman has previously promised not to increase property taxes beyond 2.33 per cent.
The group has vowed to rally against the proposed cuts before the budget is tabled in March — including a “pool party” in city hall’s lobby ahead of the Jan. 30 council meeting. Budget For All Winnipeg has asked its supporters to show up at city hall in bathing suits.
“Ultimately, decisions haven’t been made, they’ll be made by council,” Bowman said about opposition to proposed budget cuts in a Wednesday interview with CJOB.
“Look at the members of council. They’re elected because they care passionately about the services we are responsible for providing, but we do ultimately have to make some difficult choices.
“Obviously Winnipeggers should be engaged in the process.”
A preliminary 2020-2023 budget will be tabled to council March 6. Council will then vote on the recommendations in the preliminary budget before the budget is finalized.