Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Compromise proposed on councillors' office budgets

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TWO city councillors are hoping for a compromise on councillors' discretionary budgets.

On Tuesday, council will vote on Winnipeg's 2013 capital and operating budgets, which include a proposed $40,000 increase in councillors' discretionary ward budgets.

The increase will cost a total of $600,000 and has raised the ire of several councillors, who argue politicians should not increase their office budgets when funding to non-profit groups has been cut.

This week, executive policy committee voted to partially restore funding to museums so their budgets will be reduced by five per cent instead of 10 per cent. EPC did not restore money to other non-profit groups, such as the poverty action strategy or the United Way, or recommend changes to councillors' discretionary ward budgets, which are set to rise to $114,000 from about $74,000.

Couns. Jenny Gerbasi (Fort Rouge) and Justin Swandel (St. Norbert) plan to ask council to consider reducing the increase to ward budgets by $20,000 to offset cuts to museums and other non-profits. The move will save $300,000, which Gerbasi said is a practical way to put more money back into non-profits and the community.

"In a perfect world, I think there should've been a different process with the (ward) allowance in the first place. But since it's going ahead, we're saying, 'let's compromise here,' " Gerbasi said Friday.

Councillors have a discretionary annual budget of $74,000 to pay for executive assistants, ward activities, transportation, postage, mail-outs and other office expenses. Some councillors, including governance committee chairman Coun. Grant Nordman (St. Charles), have said the existing budget makes it difficult to attract and retain staff, operate their office and maintain communication with ward residents.

Swandel said he would ideally like to see the ward budget increase set aside, as any hike in councillor salaries or budgets is typically recommended by a third party, but he said he does not think that will happen.

Earlier this week, EPC shot down a move by Coun. Paula Havixbeck (Charleswood-Tuxedo) to scrap the ward allowance increase.

Swandel said he hopes council can find some sensible common ground.

"Hopefully, wiser minds will prevail," he said.

jen.skerritt@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 26, 2013 B1

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