Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Tax-and-spend plans pass after tart debate

Declared and likely mayoral hopefuls get in digs

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The debate over Winnipeg's city budget Tuesday was more entertaining than the vote, whose outcome was certain before it began.

Mayor Sam Katz was able to secure easy support on city council for the $379-million 2014 capital budget with an 11-5 vote.

But the $968-million operating budget squeaked through with only the barest 9-7 majority.

Before the vote, speakers included the only declared candidate for mayor, former councillor Gord Steeves; a likely candidate, Judy Wasylycia-Leis, who campaigned for mayor in 2010 on a tax increase, only to see Katz increase taxes three years in a row; and former River Heights councillor Garth Steek, believed to be advising another mayor hopeful. He said Katz's only strength was being rich enough to afford an expensive home in Phoenix.

But Katz was the clear winner, with passage of the budget package he and members of his executive policy committee unveiled Nov. 29.

"Raising property taxes is not a fun thing," the mayor told reporters after the special council meeting on the budgets. "The easiest thing to do is vote against it when you know it's going to get approved, so you can be the nice guy."

Council is committed to:

  • A property tax increase in 2014 of 2.95 per cent, the third straight year taxes have gone up after a 14-year tax freeze.
  • Slightly lowering the business tax rate.
  • Eliminating 20 middle managers and professional positions, for a saving of $2 million.
  • Forcing non-essential civic staff to take 3.5 days of unpaid leave next Christmas, for a saving of $1.5 million.
  • A new partnership with the YM-YWCA to build three recreational superfacilities during the next 10 years.
  • Total spending on local and regional streets of $84.2 million, an increase of 173 per cent from 2012.
  • New programs for libraries and civic recreation facilities.

Finance chairman Russ Wyatt (Transcona) said two-thirds of the tax increase is devoted to repairing local and regional streets, which he said is the top priority of most Winnipeggers.

"We have to ensure that we have sustainable funding in the future if we're going to be able to address these future challenges," Wyatt said. "We're a growing city and we have these challenges that a growing city demands be funded."

Katz said the priority of the civic administration will be to determine who among the civic workforce will be identified as non-essential and forced to take unpaid leave.

That issue is expected to meet strong opposition from CUPE Local 500, the union representing most civic workers.

CUPE president Mike Davidson came to the council meeting to speak against the budget and later told reporters the unpaid leave amounts to a layoff, which is a breach of the no-layoff clause of the collective agreement.

aldo.santin@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 18, 2013 B3

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