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Library hours, leisure guide programming, U-Pass all casualties in Winnipeg city budget

Winnipeg funds and slashes transit programs in same 2020 budget
Student union associations in Winnipeg aren't happy with the City's proposed cut to current U-pass. Global's Erik Pindera reports.

The streetlights will stay on and condo buildings won’t have to pay for their own garbage collection.

The proposed city budget, presented on Friday, impacts transit riders, library users and leisure guide users the most.

Winnipeg to review all Leisure Guide programming reducing it by 50 per cent in 2021
Winnipeg to review all Leisure Guide programming reducing it by 50 per cent in 2021

While there are no major closures of facilities, the City of Winnipeg budget tightens up programming and library hours, and eliminates the U-Pass for post-secondary students.

Mayor Brian Bowman acknowledged that some of the proposals to save money may be viewed as “shocking.”

However, he said they were necessary to keep facilities open.

The City of Winnipeg tabled their proposed budget Friday.
The City of Winnipeg tabled their proposed budget Friday. Elisha Dacey/Global News

What’s unique about this budget is that it looks ahead four years, rather than the usual 12 months.

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Coun. Scott Gillingham, who chairs the city’s finance committee, said the move to four-year budgets has been in the works since 2017.

The budget reflects about $118 million in reduced spending over four years, including a 10 per cent reduction in community grants.

“Difficult decisions were made,” said Gillingham.

While the budget is for four years, there will be ‘tweaks’ every year.

We break down the numbers below:

Property taxes and fees

  • Property taxes will increase by an expected 2.33 per cent yearly, with 2 per cent going to roads, and 0.33 per cent going to Rapid Transit.
  • The average homeowner will pay about $41 more yearly with the increase.
  • The impact fee will be reduced by 5 per cent.
  • No change to the frontage levy rate.
  • Water and sewer rates to stay the same.
  • Parking rates to stay the same.
  • Business tax rate is reduced to 4.84 per cent.

Transit

  • Transit is a mixed bag of good and bad — kids will benefit, but students will be hit harder.
  • Starting in 2021, children under 12 will ride the bus for free.
  • University students, however, will see the elimination of the U-Pass on June 1. Instead, students will need to apply for the low-income bus pass, which will be implemented in May of this year.
  • The budget includes money to complete the Southwest Rapid Transitway, and to implement the new “spine and feeder” model that was proposed last year.
  • The new routes will add about 40,000 service hours to the network, said officials.
  • However, there will still be reductions to low-volume routes.
Proposed route reductions for Winnipeg Transit.
Proposed route reductions for Winnipeg Transit. City of Winnipeg Budget
  • The Downtown Spirit Bus will cease operating in the fall.
  • The operating budget for transit will increase by about 2.5 per cent yearly.
  • Transit will also see safety improvements for drivers, including fully installing bus operator safety shields, modernizing bus communication, protective vests for transit inspectors and a study for a long-term transit security plan.

Students were not thrilled with the elimination of the U-Pass.

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“I will probably have to drop out of university due to the fact that it would be too expensive for me to go,” student Skyler Ilienko said.

The president of the University of Manitoba Students’ Union, Jakob Sanderson, also criticized the move.

“It feels as though the city has decided to completely disregard the wishes of students and also disregarding one of the programs that has made the most impact on environmental change in the city,” Sanderson said.

“It’s not as affordable for the students who need it so we’re going to stand up and give our foremost opposition to this decision.”

Derek Koop of Functional Transit Winnipeg called the changes to transit “devastating”.

“If you talk about the transit system today, it’s not working for a lot of people,” Koop said. “We’re talking about going backwards, not forwards. This is getting even worse for us.”

Civic facilities

  • All civic facilities, including libraries, pools and arenas, that are currently open will stay open. Terry Sawchuk Arena, which is currently closed due to mould, will remain closed for now. City officials said the public service is still considering what to do with the arena.
  • All city libraries will now close on Sundays. Libraries that are currently open on Sundays include the Millennium, Henderson, Pembina Trail, St. Boniface, Sir William Stephenson and Westwood libraries.
  • Any libraries that currently stay open past 8 p.m. will now close at that time.
  • The city will sell the John Blumberg Golf Course and will try to re-purpose up to 30 per cent of golf course lands.
  • Wading pools and splash pads will also be reviewed.

Roads and infrastructure

  • Roads and infrastructure are still the city’s top priority. About $141 million will be spent yearly on regional and local road renewals.
  • This means 900 lane kilometres will be renewed, including sections of Fermor Avenue, Broadway, Erin Street, Wall Street, Sargent Avenue, Stafford Street, Taylor Avenue, Corydon Avenue, Leila Avenue and McPhillips Street.

Police and Safety

  • The budget maintains support for the Downtown Public Safety Strategy, with new money for a Community Connections space at the Millennium Library, which will help the city’s vulnerable population connect to other resources.
  • The budget will also see $1 million spent over four years to support more 24-hour safe spaces.
  • Pension reforms will save the city $1.5 million starting in 2021.
  • As for funding, police will see their funding rise by about 2 per cent yearly, to a total of $313 million by 2023.
  • The price of special duty officers will go up by more than inflation, meaning businesses dealing with theft will have to pay more to hire an officer.
  • Waverley West will get a new proposed fire paramedic station, as will Windsor Park, with a total cost of about $25 million for both.

Leisure guide programming

  • The city will review all Leisure Guide programming with the goal of reducing it by 50 per cent by 2021.
  • This doesn’t necessarily mean your kids’ swimming or skating lessons will be affected, however, as the city plans to focus on keeping programs for kids, especially in lower-income areas.

Disability advocate Carlos Sosa said the leisure changes will impact some of the city’s most vulnerable.

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“I work with two supported individuals that use the libraries. swimming pools. or utilize programming from the leisure guide, and for them, that’s their inclusion into the broader community because both of them live in poverty.”

Joe Curnow from Budget For All Winnipeg also questioned the city’s move.

“This is where kids learn to skate, swim and do all of these things..they are so important for the community and yet somehow they’re on the chopping block?,” Curnow said.

“We want (the city) to be equitable, we want it to be liveable, but the budget that’s being tabled today doesn’t get us closer to that vision.”

Trees

  • Facing a significant threat from the emerald ash borer and dutch elm disease, Winnipeg’s tree canopy will see higher funding.
  • Dutch Elm Disease control funding will go up to $12.5 million by 2023 from $11.8 million in 2019.
  • Over the next four years, $25 million will be spent on reforestation improvements.