City Hall, province funding feud drags on

The war of words between city hall and Broadway boiled over again this week, with the Pallister government rejecting accusations it owes Winnipeg close to $75 million and the city insisting it is being cheated by the province.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 06/02/2019 (1454 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The war of words between city hall and Broadway boiled over again this week, with the Pallister government rejecting accusations it owes Winnipeg close to $75 million and the city insisting it is being cheated by the province.

Municipal Relations Minister Jeff Wharton told a news conference Wednesday, in regards to $40 million in road project funding the City of Winnipeg claims it’s owed, the province has "already paid."

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Wharton then turned up the heat, accusing city hall of filing invoices for 100 per cent of work that was to be cost-shared on a 50-50 basis.+

On Friday, the city said the province is reneging on $74.4 million in funding on 2018 infrastructure projects, which might have to be made up through a one-time property tax increase, service cuts or staff layoffs.

Included in the alleged shortfall is $40 million in road spending and $34.4 million allocated to the north end sewage treatment plant project.

Manitoba committed, in writing in May, to provide city hall with $83.6 million in 2018 for capital infrastructure projects. City hall allocated $50 million of that amount to road work. However, Mayor Brian Bowman said last week the province now only wants to allocate $10 million to road work — but the $50 million has already been spent.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Mayor Brian Bowman: 'The province is proposing, or directing, that their allocations be used in a different way now in 2019'

The $50 million figure stems from a 2014 commitment made by the former NDP government to give Winnipeg a total of $250 million over five years. Wharton insisted all of the $250 million has been paid out; the city said it is still owed $40 million.

Bowman met with reporters later Wednesday, and refused to back down.

The mayor said city hall’s budget process is open and public, adding the 2018 budget was approved in December 2017, and its spending plans for the year posted on the internet, with copies provided to the province.

Bowman said if the Pallister government had concerns over how city hall was spending infrastructure funding, it should have said something before the work was completed and the money spent.

“The province is proposing, or directing, that their allocations be used in a different way now in 2019, and that’s the challenge we’re having,” Bowman said. “It’s the retroactive nature of what we’re dealing with that poses the most significant challenge for us.”

The mayor said Wharton’s claim of city hall fudging invoices is a smokescreen, adding any concerns on billing should be dealt with between officials. “That’s something that can be dealt with administratively. What we’re dealing with is much more significant."

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Municipal Relations Minister Jeff Wharton speaks to reporters on Wednesday.

Bowman last week also raised concerns province wants to use $34.4 million set aside to help cover the cost of upgrades to the north end sewage treatment plant for its share of the Waverley Street rail underpass and other projects, without giving city hall any assurances the funds would be reimbursed.

Wharton said work on the treatment plant remains in the planning stages, and the $34.4 million has sat in a bank account for years and could remain unspent for several more years.

"The project is not close to happening," the minister said, adding it would be better to spend the money now.

“Unfortunately, our proposal has been distorted into public suggestions that using that money for other projects would somehow create a budget shortfall for the City of Winnipeg of $34.4 million."

Bowman said the Pallister government keeps revising its accounting of funding to the city, repeatedly describing it as “a moving target.”

“It is moving by the day, when we look at the correspondence that we’re receiving from the provincial government,” he said.

While it appears the two levels are at loggerheads, Bowman said he’s confident a face-to-face meeting with Premier Brian Pallister would resolve the complicated financial situation.

The mayor said he’s requested a personal meeting with the premier, but the province hasn’t yet responded.

Members of city council were given a briefing on the situation Wednesday, and the finance committee is dealing with the situation at its Thursday meeting.

Larry Kusch

Larry Kusch
Legislature reporter

Larry Kusch didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life until he attended a high school newspaper editor’s workshop in Regina in the summer of 1969 and listened to a university student speak glowingly about the journalism program at Carleton University in Ottawa.

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