April 4, 2020

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Winnipeg Free Press

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City urged to give councillors more say in closing facilities

A city councillor wants to raise the threshold required to close city pools, arenas, and libraries, just as council considers options to shutter some of those public amenities to help balance its books.

Possible changes to public facilities

A budget proposal from Winnipeg’s community services department aims to meet a 0.5 per cent cap on annual spending hikes by making the following changes to public facilities:

A budget proposal from Winnipeg’s community services department aims to meet a 0.5 per cent cap on annual spending hikes by making the following changes to public facilities:

●  Reduce hours at the Margaret Grant, St. James Civic and Seven Oaks pools.

● Reduce free/ drop-in rec programs by 25 per cent of 2019 levels.

● Reduce leisure guide programming by 50 per cent, excluding swimming lessons.

● Close Peguis Trail Health and Fitness Centre.

● Reduce the number of wading pools from 81 to 43.

● Close the Happyland, Windsor Park, Kinsmen Sherbrook, Transcona Centennial and Eldon Ross pools.

● Close the Sargent Park, Bertrand, Charles A. Barbour and Maginot arenas.

● Keep the Terry Sawchuk arena closed.

● Close the West Kildonan, Fort Garry and Westwood libraries.

● Cut some library evening and Sunday hours.

Source: City of Winnipeg budget documents

Coun. Kevin Klein’s motion calls for the public service to explore a possible bylaw amendment that would require a two-thirds council vote to approve closing any such public facilities. This would also apply to community clubs.

Klein (Charleswood-Tuxedo-Westwood) said it should take more than a simple majority of councillors to shut those key public spaces and the votes should be considered separately from the approval of the city budget.

Coun. Kevin Klein wants a bylaw amendment that would require a two-thirds council vote to approve closing any public facilities, including community clubs. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press files)

Coun. Kevin Klein wants a bylaw amendment that would require a two-thirds council vote to approve closing any public facilities, including community clubs. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press files)

"When you’re impacting a community with a library, for example, you have to consider all factors around that … (The current system) doesn’t allow you to have input on that (specific item)," he said.

Klein argues it would be more democratic to allow each ward councillor to weigh in on each potential closure on behalf of their constituents.

"I think if we’re going to start closing libraries or arenas and community centres, that all residents deserve a voice," he said.

Klein’s motion calls on the governance committee to order a public service report on the idea.

City staff recently provided councillors with a series of controversial options to cap each department’s annual spending increases at between zero per cent and two per cent over the next four years, which they’ve been directed to do.

About 40 community members attended a rally in November to protest the possible closure of the Westwood Library. (Daniel Crump / Winnipeg Free Press files)

About 40 community members attended a rally in November to protest the possible closure of the Westwood Library. (Daniel Crump / Winnipeg Free Press files)

Options to meet community services’ 0.5 per cent new spending cap include the closures of dozens of wading pools, five full-sized pools, four arenas and three libraries.

Barret Miller, who opposes the possible closure of the Kinsmen Sherbrook pool, welcomed the idea of an increased threshold to approve each closure. He’d also like to see each councillor’s vote on a closure reported publicly.

"I think the transparency and accountability to the citizens who elected them … is paramount," said Miller, who chairs Friends of Sherbrook Pool.

He said that transparency is critical, since he believes the Sherbrook pool is a key city amenity, whose future could sway how some Winnipeggers vote for their next city council.

Alison Schroeder, who is lobbying against the possible closure of the Fort Garry Library, also supports the idea.

Friends of Sherbrook Pool chairman Barret Miller (centre) supports Klein's idea and would like to see each councillor’s vote reported publicly. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press files)

Friends of Sherbrook Pool chairman Barret Miller (centre) supports Klein's idea and would like to see each councillor’s vote reported publicly. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press files)

"I think there needs to be clearer lines drawn in the sand. I don’t think one person swaying (the vote) one way or the other is a clear enough indication of what we should be doing," she said.

Klein’s motion was approved in a 2-1 vote at an Assiniboia community committee meeting this week but it may not be able to secure final council approval.

Coun. Scott Gillingham (St. James), the city’s finance chair, voted against the change. In an email, Gillingham said facilities sometimes require a quick closure by city staff, who shouldn’t need to wait for a council vote.

"Many of the city’s arenas, libraries, pools and other facilities are aged and require substantial capital investment to keep open," wrote Gillingham. "There may be circumstances related to health and safety or mechanical failure that require city staff to close a facility."

Gillingham believes council’s key focus should be ensuring city services are accessible to the community, rather than keeping one specific building open.

"Decisions related to city amenities should be based on sound analysis and strategic investment, not just on what may be politically popular," he wrote.

joyanne.pursaga@freepress.mb.ca

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Joyanne Pursaga

Joyanne Pursaga
Reporter

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.

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