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Poor to bear brunt of city cuts

Struggling neighbourhoods target of mayor's first budget, critics say

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 5/2/2015 (810 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Brian Bowman's first city hall budget attacks a wide range of recreational programming, impacting mostly older neighbourhoods and the city's poor.

Sources confirmed Bowman and his executive policy committee have put together a budget that proposes closing two inner-city leisure centres, decommissioning 30 wading pools, closing three outdoor pools, cutting hours and programming at indoor and outdoor pools and closing the only city pool inside a school -- Bernie Wolfe School in Transcona.

A proposed city hall budget would see the wading pool at Clara Hughes Park closed.

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

A proposed city hall budget would see the wading pool at Clara Hughes Park closed.

The East End Cultural and Leisure Centre on Larsen Avenue would be shut down and declared surplus.

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

The East End Cultural and Leisure Centre on Larsen Avenue would be shut down and declared surplus.

The recreation cuts come despite assurances during last October's election campaign Bowman could find the necessary department "efficiencies" to cap any property tax increase at just above two per cent without making any impact on front-line services.

Councillors said they were only told about the cuts planned for their wards and were asked not to reveal specifics, but Coun. Jason Schreyer (Elmwood-East Kildonan) said he was surprised at what's being proposed.

"I didn't get elected to make cuts in recreational services of this kind," he said. "I wasn't elected for this."

The cumulative impact from the recreational cuts will generate $500,000 in savings this year on a near $1-billion budget, with expected savings of $1 million annually thereafter.

Dennis Lewycky, spokesman and former executive director of the Winnipeg Social Planning Council, said the cuts to recreational programming and facilities will have devastating effects on many at-risk neighbourhoods and questioned why they are being done for so little monetary savings.

"These facilities are key to the integrity of many neighbourhoods, and these cuts will have ripple effects on the social and commercial life of the area," Lewycky said. "It's not rocket science to recognize the impact these cuts will have."

Public consultation on the budget in the spring and summer found people placed a high priority on maintaining and supporting community infrastructure such as pools and recreation facilities, Lewycky said, adding he's surprised the new council placed a target on them. Lewycky said many inner-city residents walk to these facilities and can't afford transportation.

"These small recreational facilities are neighbourhood-friendly, where children and families can easily gather," Lewycky said. "They have a big impact on a neighbourhood, more so than a larger centre."

EPC finalized its budget planning late last week and sent it to the civic departments for compilation into a budget book.

Bowman has kept a tight wrap on budget preparations. During his telephone town hall address Monday, Bowman described this year's budget as "the toughest budget Winnipeggers have faced in many decades."

Before he left Wednesday for the Big City Mayors' summit in Toronto, Bowman said the budget is essentially finished but he was getting feedback from some councillors.

"We got most of it done last week," Bowman said. "There's some minor tweaks we're making right now before we go to print."

The budget is expected to be tabled in early March and passed by council before the end of the month.

Coun. Ross Eadie (Mynarski), whose ward is slated to lose several wading pools and a leisure centre, said the cuts will have a dramatic impact on struggling neighbourhoods.

"City hall recognizes there is a racial divide in Winnipeg, and these cuts undermine efforts at neighbourhood revitalization," Eadie said.

Eadie said it appears suburban wards will not be affected, and he questions if any of Bowman's pet projects -- increased arts funding, downtown initiatives -- will be cut.

"If these people had run for office with a pledge of cutting front-line services, they never would have been elected," Eadie said. "Their election promises are meaningless."

Schreyer, a first-time councillor elected in October, said he's finding it hard to accept these recreational cuts can be interpreted as the department efficiencies Bowman talked about, adding he's still hopeful the cuts can be averted.

Other councillors reached by the Free Press said they were cautioned not to talk publicly about the cuts. Some said they're hopeful the cuts will be rescinded.

Coun. Scott Gillingham (St. James-Brooklands) said he was told some recreational facilities have been targeted in his ward, but he won't support what's been planned for them in the budget.

"I'm not in favour of any reduction in my ward," Gillingham said, adding he wasn't told what impacts are proposed for other wards.

Gillingham said he, too, is hopeful the cuts won't occur.

aldo.santin@freepress.mb.ca

Read more by Aldo Santin.

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History

Updated on Thursday, February 5, 2015 at 6:14 AM CST: Replaces photo

10:53 AM: Updates fact box with 4 wading pools to be closed.

2:15 PM: Adds comment from Karla Dueck Thiessen.

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