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Helicopter set to fly

Council expected to approve purchase today

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 14/12/2009 (2718 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

City council is poised to approve the purchase of a police helicopter today and then wait until the new year for a report about the costs and benefits.

Winnipeg's 2010 capital budget, a $431-million plan for infrastructure upgrades and equipment purchases next year, calls for the Winnipeg Police Service to spend almost $3.5 million on a helicopter, as long as the province agrees to provide new cash to cover the $1.3-million annual operating cost.

BORIS.MINKEVICH@FREEPRESS.MB.CA 
Sam Katz: helicopter will help police

BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE

BORIS.MINKEVICH@FREEPRESS.MB.CA Sam Katz: helicopter will help police

This morning, the budget is expected to sail through a special meeting of city council, despite lukewarm support for the helicopter from some of Mayor Sam Katz's allies and skepticism from opposition councillors.

While Chief Keith McCaskill of the Winnipeg Police Service has briefed the mayor and executive policy committee about the helicopter, a formal report will not come before council's protection and community services committee before January, Katz said in an interview Monday.

"My gut tells me, the way things are going, that information will be out there in the very near future anyway," said the mayor, who is convinced a helicopter will improve both the workplace safety and efficiency of city police.

McCaskill has said the aircraft will allow the police service to marshall patrol cars more effectively and allow officers to respond to more calls. Two Winnipeg police officers spent six months doing nothing else but study the use of a helicopter by police in Calgary, Edmonton, Ontario's York region and B.C.'s lower mainland, the chief said earlier this month.

While the mayor said any member of council could have taken the initiative to speak to McCaskill about the officers' findings, some councillors still want to see a report.

"We're making a decision without seeing a single piece of paper that analyzes whether this is a good use of police resources," said Fort Rouge Coun. Jenny Gerbasi. "If there's a report that's written, release it. People need to know the rationale and it has to be based on facts.

"On many issues, we're being asked to simply trust the mayor without knowing the facts. We have to be more accountable than that."

The left-leaning councillor's concerns are echoed by Colin Craig, the Manitoba director of the fiscally conservative Canadian Taxpayers Federation, who said the public needs to see a solid business case for a helicopter purchase.

"Buying a chopper should not be an emotional decision," he said.

But even council's support for the helicopter hinges upon entirely new operating funding from the province. St. Vital Coun. Gord Steeves, who sits on EPC, has said he would not agree to the purchase if it meant diverting existing funds away from other police operations. The NDP government made funding for a police helicopter part of its Nov. 30 throne speech, but has yet to agree to cover the operations with entirely new cash, Katz and a spokesman for Premier Greg Selinger have confirmed.

Manitoba's Opposition leader says he doesn't believe Selinger has any choice. "If you're going to get the headline, and you're going to make it the centrepiece of the throne speech, you have to be prepared to fund it," said Tory Leader Hugh McFadyen.

bartley.kives@freepress.mb.ca

OPPOSITION councillors are mounting a last-ditch effort to insert rapid-transit funding into the city's long-term spending plans.

This morning at city hall, Fort Rouge Coun. Jenny Gerbasi and River Heights Coun. John Orlikow will try to add $63 million in city funding for the second phase of the southwest rapid-transit corridor into the city's five-year capital budget forecast, which covers infrastructure spending until the year 2015.

The budget forecast does not include any funding for the second phase of the bus corridor, a six-kilometre busway slated to run alongside Pembina Highway from Jubilee Avenue to Bison Drive. The city and province have pegged the price tag of Phase Two at $189 million.

Gerbasi and Orlikow want the city to set aside $21 million a year in 2012, 2013 and 2014 to complete the busway, which is supposed to be finished in 2014, in order to show other levels of government the city is serious about completing the project.

"The benefit of putting it in a projected budget is you're committed to doing it," Gerbasi said on Monday. "We often put projects (in the budget forecast) that include funding from other levels of government before we have their commitments. The water and waste improvements are a good example."

The opposition motion is bound to fail today, as Mayor Sam Katz and his allies on council do not support the amendment. Katz has said he doesn't believe in using budget documents to pressure other levels of government into funding announcements.

Negotiations about the second phase of rapid transit are continuing with the federal and provincial governments, he added on Monday.

"I don't think the aspect of seriousness is in question," the mayor said.

The first phase of the southwest bus corridor, a $138-million link between Queen Elizabeth Way and Jubilee Avenue, is slated to be finished in 2011.

-- Bartley Kives

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