A series of proposed cuts to City of Winnipeg firefighting services was left in limbo Wednesday, when councillors were unable to agree on what should be done with them.
However, proposed cuts to parks, libraries and pools were endorsed — with only a compromise that attached "strongly worded notes" opposing some of the moves.
"I think (all the cuts) should be going forward for consideration," Coun. John Orlikow told members of the protection, community services and parks committee.
"Even though I probably won’t be supporting, at the end of the day, all those ideas being presented, I’ll have to find ways to raise revenue or look at various options to not have that happen."
The Wednesday night meeting was an opportunity for councillors to reject some or all of the proposed department cuts and propose alternatives. While the councillors tried to distance themselves from the cuts, they referred them all for consideration to the budget working group, including:
• $3.3 million worth of cuts in 2020 to the parks budget, and a total of $20.4-million worth of cuts to 2025;
• Closing the Westwood and West Kildonan libraries in 2020, and the Fort Garry Library in 2022;
• Closing the Happyland and Windsor Park outdoor pools in 2021, and Kinsman Sherbrook pool and Transcona Indoor Pool in 2022;
• Closing the Terry Sawchuk arena in 2021, and the Maginot, Bertrand and Charles A. Barbour arenas in 2022.
The Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service had proposed closing its Marion Street station, taking a fire engine out of service and deleting four captain positions and 14 firefighters positions in 2020. Those cuts will be considered by the budget working group when it meets in the new year.
The Wednesday night meeting was part of the 2020-23 pre-budget discussions. Council will be developing a four-year budget plan in the new year, and all departments have offered a range of service cuts to comply with caps on increases imposed by Mayor Brian Bowman and members of his executive policy committee (which also doubles as the budget working group).
It will be the EPC that will take the department recommendations and craft them into a draft budget to be released in February, and, following more committee review, presented to council for approval in March.
The water and waste and environment committee was the first to endorse all department cuts to the budget working group.
Councillors on the public works committee will go through the same process this morning, followed by the property and development committee later in the day.
Before the department cuts were considered Wednesday, the committee also approved a series of budget referrals, including revised security screening measures to the downtown Millennium Library, and a master plan that will result in $300,000 spent annually over the next six years for new off-leash dog parks.
Attempts were made by Couns. Ross Eadie and Sherri Rollins to exempt the library closings, along with continued support for youth drop-in programs and Leisure Guide programming, but those moves were opposed by Orlikow and Coun. Vivian Santos.
Santos spoke against the cuts to parks and libraries, but supported referring them to the budget process for consideration, explaining councillors still had time to find compromises and alternatives before a draft budget is released.
"I don’t support any of these recommendations," Santos said. "None of this is really set in stone, we still have a lot of time to work together to come up with some really transformative and innovative ideas" to prevent the cuts.
The "strongly worded note" opposing the cuts was a compromise successfully made by Orlikow, who repeatedly argued all the department cuts should be considered by the budget working group as it wrestles with programming choices.
Eadie and Rollins, who chaired the committee, also opposed the WFPS service cuts, but their attempts to exempt them were blocked by Santos and Orlikow.
Earlier in the day, a community group staged an unusual lobby in an effort to reverse library budget cuts. Members of Millennium4All brought rye bread, cheese cubes, pickles and chips for elected officials and administration ahead of the budget meeting.
Aldo Santin is a veteran newspaper reporter who first carried a pen and notepad in 1978 and joined the Winnipeg Free Press in 1986, where he has covered a variety of beats and specialty areas including education, aboriginal issues, urban and downtown development. Santin has been covering city hall since 2013.