City council approves 2019 budget – Winnipeg Free Press

City council approves 2019 budget - Winnipeg Free Press
City council passes budget with 11-5 vote
Winnipeg homeowners will pay 2.33 per cent more in property tax and see a cut to road repairs in the 2019 budget passed by city council at a special meeting Wednesday.

The 2.33 per cent tax increase will mean the average household will pay about $40 more on their property tax bill. The money is slated to go to infrastructure spending.

"We have to build this city for the future," said Mayor Brian Bowman. "This budget moves us in the right direction but not as fast as I'd like in terms of [road spending]."

There is no frontage levy increase in 2019 and there are no new fees or charges included in the budget.

While tweaks were made to the spending plan since it was tabled March 1, the bulk of the document remains unchanged.

The budget now includes money to hire a supervisor of urban forestry in the public works department to plan and oversee the city's response to the emerald ash borer — an insect with a history of devastating populations of ash trees.

The budget will also see the one-time $500,000 funding cut to the Winnipeg Arts Council's public art program, which was proposed in the initial budget, spread out over two years — a $250,000 cut in 2019 and the same in 2020.

Winnipeg plans to spend $86 million fixing its roads in 2019, down $30 million from the $116 million budgeted last year. The cut means spending on repairs for residential streets and lanes will be frozen this year.

Bowman argues the province still owes Winnipeg $40 million in road renewal funding, and says that shortfall is behind the reduction in this year's road spending.

The province's Progressive Conservative government denies any obligation to pay the $40 million and says there was a political commitment — by the previous NDP government — to fund a five-year roads plan.

"None of these political commitments bound a successor government," provincial Municipal Relations Minister Jeff Wharton said in an open letter to Bowman on Monday.

City council finance chair Scott Gillingham (St. James) argues the Tory government, by funding the third and fourth years of the five-year program, committed itself to the road renewal funding plan for its fifth year.

During the 2018 mayoral campaign, Bowman pledged to keep property tax increases to 2.33 per cent per year over the next four years — provided the province didn't reduce its funding to the city.

He said Wednesday property taxes may go up more than that in the coming years if the city does not get more help from Manitoba.

"I'm unsure whether this is a sustainable approach going forward," he said. "My campaign commitment was 2.33 per cent unless there's new incremental cuts from the province."

The budget also includes a promise of a low-income bus pass, money for bus safety improvements and a freeze on transit fares.

Both the operating and capital budgets for 2019 were approved in an 11-5 vote at Wednesday's meeting.

Councillors Kevin Klein (Charleswood–Tuxedo–Westwood), Janice Lukes (Waverley West), Shawn Nason (Transcona), Ross Eadie (Mynarski) and Jason Schreyer (Elmwood) voted against the plan.

A separate clause in the budget proposed using part of the 2.33 per cent property tax increase to fix bridges, along with roads and building rapid transit. The clause was approved in a 12-4 vote.

Laura Glowacki is a reporter based in Winnipeg. Before moving to Manitoba in 2015, she worked as an associate producer for CBC's Metro Morning in Toronto. Find her on Twitter @glowackiCBC and reach her by email at [email protected]

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Council voted down a motion from councillors Ross Eadie and Jason Schreyer to add $10 million for local streets by borrowing cash.

With spring on the horizon, Winnipeg driver Armond Eaglestick says his street is showing signs of wear and tear.

"The shocks are always going, you got to pay you know shocks and tires, sometimes they pop," said Eaglestick.

Winnipeg city council passed the 2019 budget by an 11 to 5 vote, but there was no last minute money added to fix residential streets.

The outcome came in spite of lobbying efforts from the Manitoba Heavy Construction Association and others to find some cash.

"This year you wiped out all significant work on neighbourhood streets," said Chris Lorenc, president of the Manitoba Heavy Construction Association.

Because of a $40 million funding dispute with the province, the city says it was forced to chop the local roads budget this year. Fifty-three street and lane projects fell by the wayside, even though homeowners are paying more in taxes.

"This was I believe a fiscally responsible reaction to the shortfall," said Mayor Brian Bowman.

Prior to the budget vote, councillors Ross Eadie and Jason Schreyer tabled a motion to borrow $10 million this year to reconstruct some of those roads.

"There is an expectation on our residents that they actually see some work this year," said Eadie.

"I for one do not believe it is appropriate to pull out the citys credit card to make Winnipeg taxpayers pay the provinces bill," said Scott Gillingham, chair of city councils finance committee.

But all might not be lost for the citys residential roads. The Trudeau governments federal budget this week contained a pledge to double gas tax revenues.

"You know local roads could be one area for consideration by council, there could other things, active transportation, said Bowman.

"You cant really drive anywhere you have to dodge the holes and everything," said Eaglestick.

A Winnipeg community is grieving the loss of a 4-year-old child who, along with her mother, was hit by a vehicle Monday.