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Winnipeggers will get a chance to tell city hall how they want their property-tax dollars spent.
And city hall is framing the discussion around the issue of a new funding model for municipalities.
The city announced its public consultation process for the 2016 budget Monday, which will begin with a series of twice-a-day open house sessions starting today at the Henderson Library from 12:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. and later at the North Centennial recreation leisure facility from 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
"I encourage all Winnipeggers to take this opportunity to provide feedback on their priorities and preferences for this year's budget," Mayor Brian Bowman said in a prepared statement. "The feedback provided through this process will help guide the preparation of this year's budget and will also provide insights into how to strengthen budget consultations moving forward."
The city has dubbed its public consultations Let's Talk. Input is sought from a new website -- www.letstalkwpg.ca -- and from the series of open houses.
There are repeated references on the Let's Talk website promoting the need for an alternative revenue source, mimicking recent complaints made by Bowman and finance chairman Coun. Marty Morantz.
"We need a new funding model," states the opening message on the Let's Talk website. "We need new, stable sources of revenue."
Bowman and members of his executive policy committee have been working with department heads on the 2016 budget since June.
The city's budget has to be passed before the end of March.
The public input generated from the consultation process will be presented to Bowman's EPC members and is expected to shape the budget document before it's released publicly some time early in the new year.
Bowman said he would be actively promoting the need for an alternative revenue source leading up to and during the 2016 provincial election campaign.
Artists group seeks fee break
HOW generous should city hall be toward a non-profit artists group renting civic space.
That's the question posed to councillors Monday when a group representing francophone artists -- who already have an annual $1 lease -- want city hall to waive $15,000 in annual service fees.
Eric Plamondon, executive director of La Maison des artistes visuels francophones (MDA), said the group pays $15,000 annually in common charges for space at the old St. Boniface city hall on Provencher Boulevard. Common charges pay for services such as snow clearing, building maintenance and custodial services.
Plamondon said MDA plans to invest $60,000 over the next four years converting the old mayor's office into a community work space -- costs that would normally be covered by a landlord.
"The city says it doesn't have the capacity to do the renovations, so we'd like them to recognize the contribution we are making and waive the common charges," Plamondon said.
Plamondon later explained the MDA has secured a $60,000 grant from the Winnipeg Foundation to carry out the renovations, explaining the request to city hall to waive the common fees is designed to help the group offset its operating costs.
"We need about four more years to diversify our support base," Plamondon said, adding the group's annual budget is about $140,000.
The group's request troubled the councillors and the administration, who believe it would set a precedent.
The city's policy is to give financially sustainable non-profit groups a dollar-a-year leases, which the MDA already receives.
Coun. John Orlikow said there are many non-profit daycares operating out of civic facilities that have invested more in their buildings but do not get a waiver on their common fees.
Coun. Jenny Gerbasi said the MDA's request amounts to a request for an operating grant, which the city is reluctant to do beyond the funding it provides to the Winnipeg Arts Council.
Plamondon said MDA has invested more than $1.5 million into the property over the last 15 years, adding the waiver of common charges would recognize it is continuing to upgrade a valuable civic property.
Plamondon said communities in Europe routinely offer incentives to non-profit artists groups.
The property and development committee voted to put the request on hold for 60 days while the administration prepares a report.
Climbing club wants break, too
THE local climbing club that operates the 20-metre climbing tower in St. Boniface will have to wait a little bit longer to learn if city hall will waive a $2,633 annual sidewalk improvement charge.
The Club d'escalade de Saint-Boniface (CESB) said it was recently issued the bill for local improvement work for a civic property it leases on Messager Street.
The city recently installed sidewalks and decorative street lighting on Messager.
As per the city's practice, property owners are billed for their share of the work when improvements are made to existing streets.
CESB chairman and treasurer André Mahé said the non-profit volunteer group is the only group or property owner on the street that was issued the local improvement bill.
Mahé said he discovered the owners of homes in a new residential development are exempt from any local improvement charges following a deal the developer secured with city hall.
Planning director John Kiernan said he was sympathetic to the group's request, explaining it shouldn't have to bear the costs for the improvements.
Kiernan said he'll recommend the group be given a grant to offset the costs this year but added the city's regulations need to be revised to ensure the group doesn't keep coming back for assistance.
Kiernan said his department will have a report for the committee's consideration at its January meeting.
No rush to build granny suites
CHANGES in zoning regulations to encourage the construction of detached "granny suites" hasn't had the impact city officials had hoped.
Planning officials said there have been only three applications for the so-called granny suites -- detached residential facilities near an existing residential home -- since the rules were changed in 2012.
City planner Brayden Smith told the property and development committee Monday the high cost of providing water and sewer services was the primary reason for developers and homeowners not proposing to build the units.
The committee instructed Smith and his team to explore proposals that could encourage more detached units, which would eventually be shared with the housing industry before any further changes to zoning regulations are enacted.