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This article was published 19/5/2016 (373 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
A city councillor is raising questions over where tax dollars allocated for green space maintenance are really being spent after city officials confirmed no funds have been budgeted for open spaces in the new Bridgwater suburbs.
Coun. Janice Lukes (South Winnipeg-St. Norbert) said parks officials confirmed the department has no plans or budget to maintain the public garden space in the north half of the Waverley West development – Bridgwater Forest, Bridgwater Trails, Bridgwater Lakes – and is unable to mow the open fields to the same standards as the rest of the city.
Lukes said civic officials need to explain how they’re spending department dollars and why it’s not being spent in the new neighbourhoods.
"We can’t allow neighbourhoods to be designed and built like this and not be able to maintain it," Lukes said. "We are billing people on their property taxes to take care of parks and green space. Where is that money going? I want to see how it’s being spent."
Lukes described the flower garden in the roundabout that greets motorists into Bridgwater Forest as "spectacularly hideous," and said the gardens along the pathways throughout that neighbourhood are in the same state of neglect.
Lukes estimated there are over 200 shrubbery beds in the Bridgwater neighbourhoods that the city isn’t maintaining. Grass mowing of open fields has also suffered, she said. Where the mowing rotation in older neighbourhoods is every 10-14 days, Lukes said parks officials said Bridgwater fields can go 14 days or longer between mowings.
It’s not just an issue restricted to the Bridgwater area, she said. "This is the canary in the coal mine on how the planning department allows this to happen," in all new neighbourhoods, across the city. "It’s happening in Amber Trails, in Sage Creek. If we don’t change the way we’re doing things, we’re going to have a much bigger problems than the bushes in Waverley West."
A civic spokeswoman confirmed the parks branch has no budget for shrub maintenance in the Bridgwater neighbourhoods but she added "we will be maintaining this area as time and resources permit as we do in other areas of the city."
The spokeswoman said the city had to redeploy parks staff from other areas to do grass mowing in Waverley West, which resulted in "a lower mowing cycle throughout the entire area."
Lukes said developers design and construct the new neighbourhoods according to plans approved by the planning department, in consultation with other civic departments like public works, community services and transit. Developers are required to maintain the public, open spaces for a limited number of years until the new neighbourhood is considered completed and then that land becomes the responsibility of the city. She said the open spaces in Waverley West, which was developed by the provincial government, are being turned over in phases to the city.
Jarrett Hannah, president of the Bridgwater Forest Neighbourhood Association, has lived in the community for four years. The association has been dealing with city hall with no success.
"It’s been extremely painful. It’s bureaucracy – nothing gets done," Hannah said. "It’s talked about a lot, they made a lot of promises but nothing gets done."
Lukes said it's clear that civic planners have been approving new neighbourhoods without any thought to the financial cost maintaining the open spaces will have on the city budget and no one in senior administration appears to have given thought to the problem.
Lukes said she will meet with officials from several departments soon and expects an explanation for the lack of maintenance and a solution.
This issue is not part of the "who pays for growth" debate, she said, adding that a portion of every homeowners property tax bill is allocated to pay for parks and open space maintenance but it's not happening in the Bridgwater neighbourhoods or other new suburbs.
"People have an expectation when they buy a home in a new suburb," Lukes said. "People are paying for this and I don’t know where the money has gone."
Hannah said he and his neighbours expect part of the money they pay in property taxes would be re-invested in their neighbourhood but they've seen very little evidence of that.
"If you live in an area and you pay property taxes, you have an expectation of basic services being tended to – your street cleaned, your boulevard grass mowed. That’s the expectation at the minimum," Hannah said.
Lukes said she tried without success to resolve the issue last year and stayed quiet but with no resolution in sight, she said she’s not holding back any longer.
"I’ve had it. I’m bringing it out into the open. It’s the only way I can get things done by putting a spotlight on it."
Lukes said blame can be spread across several civic departments: the planning department – which approved the suburbs; the parks branch – which is not maintaining the green space; and the finance department – which failed to project the associated costs of the new suburbs and appears to be ignoring the problem.
Lukes said a senior parks official put the blame on the expanding budget of the police service and the city's spending splurge on capital projects but she rejected that defence. "I'm not buying that."