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City council approves capital, operating budgets

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Hours of debate on the floor of Winnipeg city council didn’t change the outcome that was certain from the beginning: the 2014 operating and capital budgets were approved.

Mayor Sam Katz was able to secure easy support of the capital budget, with a 11-5 vote.

But the operating budget squeaked through with only the barest of majority, 9-7.

An amendment by councillors Dan Vandal and Jenny Gerbasi to provide an additional $50,000 to local museums was easily defeated by Katz and his coalition, 5-11.

"It’s extremely difficult to do sometimes what has to be done," Katz said following the special council meeting. "Raising property taxes is not a fun thing.

"Raising property taxes is not a fun thing."

-Mayor Sam Katz

"The easiest thing to do is vote against it when you know it’s going to get approved so you can be the nice guy."

Property taxes in 2014 will be going up by 2.95 per cent, the third consecutive year they have gone up under Katz.

The business tax rate will slightly decline.

Council is committed to:

  • eliminating 20 middle-manager and professional positions;
  • forcing non-essential civic staff to take 3.5 days unpaid leave next Christmas;
  • a new partnership with the YM-YWCA to build three recreational super-facilities.

Katz said the priority of the civic administration will be to determine who among the civic workforce will be identified as non-essential and forced to take unpaid leave. The unpaid leave plan is expected to result in savings of $1.5 million.

That issue is expected to meet strong opposition from the union that represents most civic workers, CUPE Local 500.

CUPE president Mike Davidson came to the meeting this morning to speak against the budget, and later told reporters that the unpaid leave amounts to a layoff, which is a breach of the no-layoff clause of the collective agreement.

Finance chairman Russ Wyatt (Transcona) said two-thirds of the tax increase is devoted to repairing local and regional streets, which he said is the top priority of most Winnipeggers.

"We have to ensure that we have sustainable funding in the future if we’re going to be able to address these future challenges," Wyatt said. "We’re a growing city and we have these challenges that a growing city demands be funded."

Could-be mayoral candidates make presentations

The morning session was devoted to presentations from the public, which attracted one declared mayor candidate (Gord Steeves), and a possible candidate (Judy Wasylycia-Leis).

The morning also featured a presentation by former River Heights councillor Garth Steek, who took a couple of shots at Katz.

Steek said he was surprised council couldn’t freeze taxes, given the strength of individual council members. When it came to Katz, however, the only strength he attached to him was his ability to buy an expensive home in Arizona.

Katz traded barbs with Coun. Scott Fielding, who is also considering a run for mayor in 2014. Fielding asked Katz if he was going to apologize for running in 2010 with a pledge to freeze taxes and then increased taxes for three straight years.

Katz later fired back that Fielding, as former finance chairman, championed the last two tax increases but somehow was against them for 2014.

Katz said the politicking on the floor of council is to be expected as they approach the coming municipal election.

aldo.santin@freepress.mb.ca

History

Updated on Tuesday, December 17, 2013 at 10:23 AM CST: adds photo

3:21 PM: Corrects photo caption

4:13 PM: Adds results of votes, story on results.

6:37 PM: corrects typo

6:49 PM: corrects typo

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