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Tax hike, unpaid leave in 2014 city budget

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Homeowners' tax bills will be increasing next year and a lot of city workers will be forced to take some unpaid leave.

As reported by the Free Press and other media, the 2014 city budget will give homeowners a 2.95 per cent property tax increase.

Civic workers learned today that many of them will be required to take 3.5 unpaid days off during next Christmas to help pay for the budget increase.

"This, no doubt, is not going to be popular," Finance chairman Russ Wyatt told reporters before the preliminary budget was tabled at executive policy committee.

The tax increase and the unpaid days off are just two ways the city is financing an extra $45 million to be spent in 2014.

According to city officials, the 2.95 per cent tax increase amounts to about a $45 increase in a homeowner’s municipal property tax bill, for the typical home assessed at $262,780.

The tax-supported operating budget is proposed to be $967.8 million for 2014; up from $922.7 million in 2013.

The preliminary budget will be subject to committee reviews over the next two and a half weeks. Council will vote on the final budget at a special meeting Dec. 17.

Likely mayoral candidates councillors Paula Havixbeck and Scott Fielding dismissed the preliminary budget.

Havixbeck (Charleswood-Tuxedo) called it an embarrassment.

"We had over $100 million in cost overruns (on city projects) and they’re still proposing a tax increase," Havixbeck said, adding grants to community groups are frozen at 2013 levels and there is no certainty the Sherbrook Pool will be repaired or replaced.

Fielding said he drafted his own budget plan that would freeze property taxes and still spend more on infrastructure – streets and sidewalk improvements – than is being proposed in this preliminary budget.

As Mayor Sam Katz repeatedly said in past weeks, the city is designating one percentage point of the tax increase to the local street reserve, which was established for the 2013 budget.

For 2014, the city will set up a reserve for regional street improvements, designating another percentage point of the increase.

The remaining portion of the tax increase will be used to cover increases for all other departments.

Non-essential city staff will be required to take 3.5 days of unpaid leave between Christmas Eve and New Year's Day in 2014. That’s expected to save the city $1.5 million.

Chief Financial Officer Mike Ruta said the city still has to determine who will be affected by the unpaid leave, but added that no department will be untouched, including city councillors.

Ruta said he could not state how many employees will be forced to take the unpaid leave.

The capital budget is increasing only marginally for 2014: $379 million, compared to $374.7 million in 2013.

Other cost-savings moves proposed for next year include: eliminating 20 senior management positions -- $2 million; reducing each councillor’s ward allowance by $37,000; delaying filling vacancies -- $14.1 million;

Spending highlights include:8.6 per cent more to the Winnipeg Police Service; 2.9 per cent more to Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service; increasing the Transit subsidy by 3.8 per cent, to $47.6 million; $18.2 million to be spend on local street renewals; $14.3 million for regional street improvements; a 11 per cent increase for library materials ($300,000.)

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