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Waverley West councillor wants to use impact fees to fund Winnipeg fire hall

A firefighter battles a fire.
A firefighter battles a fire. Pixabay

Waverley West’s councillor wants the city to build a fire hall in Winnipeg’s booming southwest using money from development cost charges in her ward and others — despite an ongoing legal battle over the fees.

Councillor Janice Lukes told city council’s finance committee on Friday she wants to use development funds, known as impact fees, to build the fire hall and fund a study on city service capacity.

The city has about $29.7 million in its impact fee reserve — collected by charging $500 for every 100 square feet of new residential space since the fees went into effect in 2017 — but none of the reserve has been spent amid an ongoing legal battle between the city and developers.

The intent of the reserve is to provide services to Winnipeg’s expanding suburbs.

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

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Lukes wants to tap into $10.7 million of the reserve for a new fire hall and the study.

“We’ve got walls of plywood coming up, you know the construction we’ve approved… when construction is underway, that’s one of the most precarious times for fires,” she told the committee.

“Lives are at stake, we’re being irresponsible.”

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“I don’t want lives lost under my watch while we have the money sitting there collecting interest.”

“The residents of Waverley West have contributed just over $10 million toward this impact fee fund, which basically is written out to promote growth, to support growth in communities,” Lukes said after the meeting. “Some of this funding should go towards a fire hall. This is money that’s just sitting there.”

READ MORE: City of Winnipeg increases impact fees by 5 per cent

A legal case over the city’s authority to charge developers impact fees is expected to move forward at the end of February. The Manitoba Homebuilders’ Association and Urban Development Institute filed Court of Queen’s Bench affidavits in November 2017 for a review of the impact fee bylaw.

“It’s working its way through the process and the final hearings over that application are scheduled for the end of this month. We’re anticipating at some point this year we’ll have a ruling and some clarity over the city’s authority,” said Lanny McInnes, the president and CEO of the MHBA, in a phone interview Sunday.

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“We agree with the finance chair Coun. [Scott] Gillingham that the money collected by the city through the impact fee should be held in reserve until the court application is finalized.”

Gillingham told reporters he’s reluctant to spend any of the impact fee reserve because of the ongoing legal issues, although he said during the committee meeting he understands the need for emergency services in Lukes’ ward. He later noted the committee will discuss the issue during budget deliberations — the preliminary four-year budget will be tabled March 6.

READ MORE: Legal challenge over Winnipeg’s growth fees no closer to resolution

Lukes, however, thinks spending an estimated $6 to $8 million on a new fire hall is worth the potential risk of a ruling against the city.

“We can make a decision to alter the police plan and we have a lawsuit, yet we seem to be able to spend that money?” Lukes said, referencing a November city council decision to amend police officer pensions and put the money saved into the overall policing budget, despite ongoing arbitration.

“[It’s] worth the gamble.”

Lukes pointed to a recent fire in an under-construction student housing building and significant population growth in her ward as examples of the need for a fire hall in the area.

“We’ve gone from 44,000 to 56,000 people in two years, and that’s not counting all the permits I approved in 2019 — the 900 plus multi-family dwellings, the schools, the commercial. I’d have to say [Waverley West is] bigger than Brandon now, and no fire hall.”
Ambulance calls have increased dramatically in the past five years in Winnipeg
Ambulance calls have increased dramatically in the past five years in Winnipeg