December 10, 2013 Sections
Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
Closing the Arlington Bridge, cancelling the next phase of rapid transit, slashing arts funding to zero and reducing snow clearing are among radical spending cuts proposed by deputy mayor Russ Wyatt to mitigate the "infrastructure crisis" he blames on the province.
On Friday, council's finance chairman announced $187 million worth of spending the city could divert into a new reserve fund that would finance road and bridge repairs. Wyatt's list of 26 cuts includes the end of city support for housing, community crisis workers, Economic Development Winnipeg and the Aboriginal Youth Strategy and the elimination of all grants to Winnipeg museums, the Assiniboine Park Conservancy and the Winnipeg Convention Centre.
He also proposed cancellation of the city's new tree-pruning plan, the end of tax refunds to True North Sports & Entertainment and the creation of "Wyatt weekends," 13 unpaid Fridays for city workers every year.
He even proposed cancelling the city's commitment to the Canada Summer Games -- only hours after the city made the $3-million pledge.
"I don't think we can stand there and be kissy-kissy with the premier at the Canada Summer Games when we have just been abandoned," the Transcona councillor said in an interview, repeating his assertion the 2013 provincial budget leaves Winnipeg with no means of maintaining critical infrastructure.
"The passing of the provincial budget leaves us without any hope of finding a source of funding for infrastructure," Wyatt said. "Selinger created this crisis. Now we have to come up with a solution. Nobody is standing up for the City of Winnipeg."
Mayor Sam Katz immediately distanced himself from Wyatt's comments, stating he does not support radical cuts.
But he did say the city faces "tough decisions" in the coming months in the wake of the provincial budget.
"Since this is an extremely serious issue, this should be part of the (city's) budget process. Let's see what the public input is and move on from there," Katz said.
Wyatt also proposed the cancellation of city budget consultations.
The Selinger government issued a restrained response to Wyatt's attempt at provocation.
"At a time when other provinces are freezing and cutting funding to municipalities, we are investing generously," said Naline Rampersad, spokeswoman for Local Government Minister Ron Lemieux.
Fort Rouge Coun. Jenny Gerbasi, meanwhile, said her colleague is clearly acting out and causing needless worry in the process.
"It appears our deputy mayor and finance chair is making dangerous and reckless threats that would harm many, many people and the quality of life in our city if he succeeds," she said in a statement.
"This epic fit of temper and destruction needs to be stopped. It's up to the mayor and council to stand up to this insanity."
Wyatt insisted he was serious, even when it comes to cancelling $6.4 million worth of entertainment-tax refunds enshrined in a legal agreement with True North, which operates the MTS Centre.
"Let them sue us," he said. "How many mom-and-pop businesses get tax refunds?"
True North spokesman Scott Brown said in a statement it would be inappropriate to comment.
The mayor offered his own explanation for the deputy mayor's latest act of political theatre.
"I think you're seeing a great deal of frustration from Coun. Wyatt," Katz said.
Selected spending cuts proposed by council finance chairman Russ Wyatt. The cash would be diverted into a new reserve to repair regional streets and bridges:
Cancel the second phase of the Southwest Transitway ($137.5 million)
Cancel grants to the Assiniboine Park Conservancy ($12.2 million)
End entertainment-tax refunds to True North Sports & Entertainment ($6.4 million)
Cancel grants the Winnipeg Arts Council and stop funding public art ($4.1 million)
Close Arlington Bridge and cancel engineering plans for repairs ($3.5 million)
Reduce snow-clearing budget ($3.1 million)
Cancel commitment to Canada Summer Games ($3 million)
Create "Wyatt weekends," 13 unpaid days off for city workers ($2.5 million)
End grant to Economic Development Winnipeg ($2.3 million)
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 27, 2013 A4