Majority of councillors vote to pass 2023 city budget
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A decisive majority of council members cast a final vote to approve the City of Winnipeg’s 2023 budget Wednesday, amid concerns about climate change and calls for more community safety hosts at the Millennium Library.
The city’s capital and operating budgets passed in separate 14-2 votes.
Mayor Scott Gillingham said the financial plan funds both social services and economic initiatives.
“I think that this 2023 budget offers a balanced approach,” said Gillingham, making note of funds for 24-7 safe spaces, the downtown public washroom and key roads.
Coun. Matt Allard, the only councillor to oppose both the capital and operating budgets, argued paying for preliminary work on widening Kenaston Boulevard and extending Chief Peguis Trail doesn’t make sense in the midst of a climate-change crisis. Past estimates indicate those projects would each cost more than $500 million.
“We have roads we can’t fix and this budget says we should spend $2.8 million in imagining a billion-dollar road project. It is so much money relative to all of the other things… we could do with that kind of money, the transit we could invest in. We could build (out) the entire active transportation (strategy),” said Allard (St. Boniface).
Allard raised an unsuccessful motion to amend the budget, which called upon council to increase the St. Boniface Street Links grant from about $119,000 to $220,000, spend $240,900 on a city-wide community garden strategy and hire a consultant on reducing Winnipeg Transit fares to $1. It also called for the city to devote $600,000, and seek another $600,000 of external funds, to replace the Winakwa Community Centre wading pool with a spray pad.
Allard told media the Street Links funding would have been enough to persuade him to support the 2023 budget, since he deems it essential to helping folks cope with homelessness and addictions, though he will continue advocating for priorities to address climate change.
Coun. Ross Eadie (Mynarski) joined Allard to oppose the operating budget over concerns it didn’t offer enough investment in recreation and other city services, while Coun. Jason Schreyer (Elmwood-East Kildonan) cast the second vote against the capital budget over concerns it fails to properly account for construction inflation.
The vote followed one last collective plea from social service organizations to add four more full-time community safety host positions at the Millennium Library, based on previous success.
“Our community safety hosts have de-escalated 209 out of 260… events that they’ve been involved with at the Millennium Library. That’s 80 per cent of the interactions that they’ve had where police did not need to be called,” said Michael Redhead Champagne, a board member with Fearless R2W, which trains the specialized security staff to provide trauma-related crisis work and connect vulnerable folks with resources.
Champagne said the community safety hosts have secured shelter for eight people and given naloxone (to reverse opioid drug overdoses) to nine people.
Champagne believes the hosts could replace security staff at other civic buildings, as well.
“There are many other municipal spaces, such as community centres and (the council building) where community safety hosts would be more appropriate than traditional security,” he told reporters.
He said two community safety hosts currently work at Millennium Library, though both of their terms will end in the next few months.
Council didn’t alter the budget to grant the request on Wednesday. However, community services chairman Coun. John Orlikow said he also wants to see more of the specially trained hosts replace standard security staff at the downtown library in the near future, potentially even before the city approves a long-term safety strategy for the facility.
“It’s a good program. It has people that really can connect with people… so I do really think the program has lots of merit,” said Orlikow (River Heights-Fort Garry).
Gillingham said he’s “certainly open” to the idea of adding more community safety hosts but expects that would be considered after a report is released on long-term safety options at the library.
“The conversation is, by no means, over with this budget. It’s just the timing of this budget is such that we still don’t have that report back,” he said.
There is no set date for the report’s release.
Efforts to improve safety at Millennium Library were thrust into the spotlight after 28-year-old Tyree Cayer was stabbed to death on the main floor on Dec. 11, leading the library to close. It reopened most services on Jan. 23, with metal detectors and police on site.
Meanwhile, the budget received praise from members of the business community Wednesday, partly due to its funding to extend city water and sewer service to help develop CentrePort South, as well as the plans to expand Chief Peguis and Kenaston.
“These decisions tell our trade partners continentally and globally that Winnipeg is a trade hub and we are open for business,” said Chris Lorenc, president of the Manitoba Heavy Construction Association.
The 2023 budget also includes a 3.5 per cent property tax hike and a $1.50 per-foot frontage fee increase, which will cost the average single-family homeowner $142 more.
Born and raised in Winnipeg, Joyanne loves to tell the stories of this city, especially when politics is involved. Joyanne became the city hall reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press in early 2020.
Updated on Wednesday, March 22, 2023 6:51 PM CDT: Fixes St. Boniface Street Links grant numbers