Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Property taxes going up again

Proposed 3.87% hike to cover rising emergency-services costs

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Winnipeg homeowners face a 3.87 per cent property-tax hike during the same year city councillors plan to spend $1.3 million to increase their office budgets and hire new policy advisers.

On Wednesday, Mayor Sam Katz tabled the 2013 capital and operating budgets, which include a proposed property-tax increase that will cost the average homeowner an extra $57 this year.

The second municipal tax increase in as many years is expected to generate an additional $17.8 million and help pay for the rising cost of police and emergency services, which account for 44 per cent -- $406 million -- of Winnipeg's $921-million operating budget.

One per cent of the property tax increase -- $4.5 million -- will go toward a reserve fund dedicated to fixing streets, lanes and sidewalks.

This year's operating budget represents a $28-million increase over the 2012 budget. The police and fire-paramedic budgets will increase $31 million alone.

Winnipeg also plans to find $13.6 million in savings by delaying filling vacant positions and reducing grants to non-profit groups by $358,000. The city has cut funding to the University of Manitoba's Dutch Elm disease research program, the poverty action strategy and the United Way. Other groups -- including the St. Boniface Museum -- have had funding reduced.

At the same time, the city will spend $722,000 to create a policy development and communications office for council's executive policy committee. Councillors' discretionary ward budgets are set to rise to $114,000 from $74,000.

Katz said Winnipeg still has the lowest municipal taxes in the country and other major cities in Canada have seen taxes rise 38 to 64 per cent in the last decade.

Katz said police emergency services account for the biggest portion of the budget, admitting the rising cost is not sustainable. He said the city has already called for an operational review of the Winnipeg Police Service.

The mayor said he would rather have a share of other growth revenues -- such as a share of the provincial gasoline tax -- to offset the cost of services. "From my point of view, Winnipeg has been a rare island compared to the rest of the Canadian cities for where we've been on property taxes," Katz said.

In the absence of other funding, finance chairman Coun. Russ Wyatt (Transcona) said the city plans to increase property taxes one per cent a year in coming years to devote to fixing streets. Wyatt said the move is one way Winnipeg will be able to address its poor infrastructure.

The city's street renewal budget is set to rise to $50.4 million, up from $30.8 million in 2012.

The proposed tax hike prompted a backlash from some councillors who said it's wrong for them to spend 50 per cent more on their ward budgets at a time when citizens have been asked to pay more for services.

"It's kind of a slap in the face to people that are getting all these cost increases at the same time," said Fort Rouge Coun. Jenny Gerbasi.

Coun. Paula Havixbeck (Charleswood-Tuxedo) said she does not support a tax increase, noting the rise in councillors' ward budgets and the new policy office for executive policy committee totals $1.3 million. She said she plans to do everything she can to find savings that don't affect city services.

Katz said a previous decision to eliminate the EPC Secretariat -- a policy office -- was a mistake. He said councillors will have policy advisers to help with new initiatives and increased ward budgets to improve communication with citizens.

Colin Craig, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation's prairie director called the increased council spending "outrageous" and said city hall should find ways to eliminate unnecessary costs. Craig said taxes have risen more than the average citizen's paycheque and city hall has "taken the easy way out" by raising taxes instead of addressing ballooning salaries.

The city will spend nearly $16 million on increases to police salaries and benefits this year, partially due to an increase in the number of officers.

"I think the bottom line is this should be a period of restraint for city hall," Craig said. "Property-tax increases shouldn't be increasing when there's still inefficiencies and waste."

Winnipeg will also spend $375 million this year on new construction and capital projects, including $6 million on library renewal, $1.1 million to complete the design of the second leg of the Southwest Transitway, $7.3 million for the first of the city's new recycling centres and $10 million to ease traffic congestion in the Polo Park area.

jen.skerritt@freepress.mb.ca

Where your money goes

Highlights from budget day at city hall

2013 operating budget

City spending on all services, from policing to mosquito control

  • Total spending: $921.6 million, up 3.2 per cent from $892.9 million in 2012
  • Property-tax hike: 3.87 per cent over 2012, which will raise an additional $17.8 million. One of those percentage points - $4.5 million - will be dedicated to road renewals.
  • Total property-tax haul (projected) $482.9 million, up $23.2 million due to the tax hike and new properties on the rolls.
  • Business-tax haul (projected): $58.4 million, up $800,000 due to the end of the practice of exempting more businesses every year.
  • Spending on police: $242.5 million, up $22 million from 2012.
  • Spending on fire-paramedic service: $163.7 million, up $9 million from 2012.
  • Total spending on emergency services: $406.2 million, or 44 per cent of the operating budget.
  • Spending on new city policy advisers: $722,000.
  • Hike in council spending on their own office budgets: $600,000, or $40,000 per ward. Councillors may now spend $114,000, up from $74,000 in 2012. No increase in budget for mayor's office.
  • Savings from "vacancy management" (projected): $13.6 million
  • Cuts to consulting and advertising: $868,000
  • Cuts to grants to non-profit organizations: $358,000.

 

2013 capital budget

City spending on roads, buildings, equipment and other one-time purchases

  • Total spending: $374.7 million, down 4.2 per cent from $393.1 million in 2012
  • Street renewals: $50.4 million, up from $30.8 million in 2012. One eastbound stretch of Portage Avenue in the West End will receive $5.4 million alone. Rehabilitation projects are also planned for McGillivray Boulevard ($2.2 million), Corydon Avenue ($1.3 million) and Lagimodiere Boulevard ($1.3 million).
  • Polo Park traffic improvements: $30 million, using $20 million from the sale of the Canad Inns Stadium site.
  • Waverley West roads: Another $9.3 million this year - and a total of $15 million over two years - added to what's become an $80-million project, due to cost overruns.
  • Panet Road/Molson Avenue twinning: $7.4 million for the stretch between Munroe Avenue and Grassie Boulevard.
  • Recycling depots: $7.2 million to build two drop-off centres for recyclables and hazardous waste. One will be placed at the Brady Road landfill, with the other near the city's public works office on Pacific Avenue.
  • Former water-park cash: $7 million once set aside to subsidize a private water-park will be used to rebuild the fire-destroyed East Elmwood community centre to the tune of $3.2 million, with the remaining $3.8 million divvied up among 14 other wards. Each will receive $271,000 each.
  • Library renewals: $6.8 million this year to redevelop libraries in Charleswood, Windsor Park-Bonivital and St. Vital.
  • Dutch Elm disease strategy: $2.8 million to beef up the city's plan to save its elm forest.
  • Jubilee rapid-transit station: $1.7 million to build a station to serve the new housing development planned for the Fort Rouge Yards.
  • Brady Road compost facility: $1 million to build a plant to process residential yard waste.

 

-- Kives and Skerritt

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 10, 2013 A3

History

Updated on Thursday, January 10, 2013 at 6:38 AM CST: replaces photos

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