September 23, 2020

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City criticized for transparency about proposed cuts

WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES</p>

WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 27/11/2019 (300 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The city's new process that offers public transparency to budget deliberations was roundly criticized on Wednesday for alarming citizens and city workers.

More than 45 delegations signed up to speak at Wednesday’s special meeting of the protection, community services and parks committee to voice their opposition to proposed closures of libraries, pools and other public amenities throughout the city.

The meeting was step two of three for the committee as the city’s new multi-year budget process plays out publicly, stoking fears among Winnipeggers as they hear about potential service clawbacks. The committee is considering proposed budgets from the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service, Community Services and Public Works.

In the past, proposed closures would have been debated behind closed doors, but the city's new open-government direction means the public is hearing about proposed cuts that may never happen.

"You heard today people expressing fear about the community services that they love and care about... Definitely, it’s pulled people to city hall. I will reflect through the budget process whether or not this is fundamentally better than what we did last year," said committee chair Coun. Sherri Rollins (Fort Rouge-East Fort Garry).

"I do think with transparency, this attempt at open government, deliberating publicly that which is typically held in the back rooms, you’re getting the shame spiral of, ‘How dare you cut that or even propose to cut that.’"

The delegations included local union leaders, like United Fire Fighters of Winnipeg President Alex Forrest and Canadian Union of Public Employees President Gord Delbridge, as well as community activists and members of resident associations from across the city.

While speaking to the councillors on the committee, Delbridge said the city’s new multi-year budget process was fundamentally broken and needs to be discarded.

"What’s being proposed here is embarrassing and it should never have been proposed in this manner to begin with. How it impacts members and employees...thinking that their jobs are on the line and they’re going to be cut," Delbridge said.

"That’s no way to run an organization, you start threatening the people you want to be productive in your workplace."

Delbridge said the staffing cuts being proposed would be untenable for the civic employees left behind who’d be expected to pick up the slack. He also argued it's high time the city takes a hard look at alternative sources of revenue.

"We live in a growing city. We’re expanding and additional services are required. We can’t be making reductions and relying on vacancy management. At the end of the day, citizens just aren’t receiving the services they need and in many cases that’s putting citizen’s at risk," Delbridge said.

"The staff would be significantly overworked. They’re already overworked at this point. We’re already cut to the bone."

Melissa Bowman-Wilson, a mother of two who lives downtown, called on the committee to raise her taxes in order to avoid shutting down leisure centres, swimming pools and libraries.

She said those services were essential to the kind of city she wants to raise her children in, arguing kids will suffer if the proposed closures go through.

"I look at taxes and then I look at what I get for those taxes. This year I got to put $1,700 into repairs on the suspension of my vehicle. And you know why? Because I live in Winnipeg and I live in the inner city and I go over a pot hole every time I leave my back alley," Bowman-Wilson said.

"I’m already paying a tax, it’s just not going to the city. It’s not being well spent. It’s not being appropriately allocated. I’m just bearing the costs of that myself. If we share the costs as a community, we can do all sorts of things you can’t do for a few measly dollars left on our kitchen table at the end of the month."

In total, five pools and three libraries have been put on the proposed chopping block.

Rollins said she’s reserving judgment on whether the new budget process is an improvement, saying she’s fielded a lot of late night emails from constituents who are confused about the process and think it’s a foregone conclusion the proposals will be adopted.

"I think the fear is a symptom of the transparency... What are the priorities of Winnipeg? You’re hearing some priorities really loud and clear in that room," Rollins said.

"I’m re-stating all the time these budget proposals are kicked off in three meetings. The first with budgeting presentations of the departments. The second with delegations... And finally with deliberations."

The committee is set to reconvene for step three of that process Dec. 4.

ryan.thorpe@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @rk_thorpe

Ryan Thorpe

Ryan Thorpe
Reporter

Ryan Thorpe likes the pace of daily news, the feeling of a broadsheet in his hands and the stress of never-ending deadlines hanging over his head.

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