November 14, 2019

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City's wish list of capital projects tallies $4.9 billion

City hall will need to drum up $4.5 billion in funding to push forward on all the major capital projects proposed for Winnipeg in the next decade – a fact which would require astronomical debt, water and sewer rate spikes, and property tax hikes.

List of unfunded capital projects:

East of the Red Rec Plex

South Winnipeg Recreation Campus (phases 1-3)

Southeast Winnipeg Recreation & Library Facilities (phases 1-2)

Arlington Bridge replacement

East of the Red Rec Plex

South Winnipeg Recreation Campus (phases 1-3)

Southeast Winnipeg Recreation & Library Facilities (phases 1-2)

Arlington Bridge replacement

Chief Peguis Trail extension west

Lagimodiere Twin Overpasses rehabilitation

Louise Bridge replacement

Marion transportation improvements

Route 90 improvements

St. Vital Bridge rehabilitation

William Clement Parkway

Electric Bus Pilot Project

North Transit Garage replacement

Rapid Transit Corridors (3 corridors)

Airport Area West Water and Sewer Servicing

North End Sewage Treatment Plant (phases 1-3)

Southwest Interceptor (phase 2)

That’s the dire fiscal picture painted by a six-page report – obtained by the Free Press in advance of its release – that is slated to be posted to the City of Winnipeg’s website Friday morning.

The report highlights 22 major capital projects carrying a collective price tag of $4.9 billion and comprising 60 per cent of the city’s infrastructure deficit. Ninety-one per cent of the costs remain unfunded at this time.

If the city moves forward on all of them – many of which are considered vital for economic development – during the next decade, it will require significant help from other levels of government, obliterating the municipal debt ceiling and steep tax increases.

For example, if the city were to finance the tax-supported projects by borrowing money, it would translate into a property tax increase of 30 per cent over the next ten years, on top of water and sewer rate hikes of 37 per cent.

Todd MacKay, Prairie Director of the Canadian Taxpayer Federation, said while he recognizes this is just a city report and not necessarily a policy proposal, the numbers are shocking.

"It’s good to do long-term planning, but those kinds of tax increases would be absolutely unacceptable. Winnipeggers can’t take that kind of bill hitting them hard in the wallet. The city has a lot more work to do, because that’s not an option," MacKay said.

Canadian Taxpayers Federation spokesperson Todd MacKay said the type of property tax increases needed to subsidize all of the city's planned capital projects would be "absolutely unacceptable."

MARK TAYLOR / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES

Canadian Taxpayers Federation spokesperson Todd MacKay said the type of property tax increases needed to subsidize all of the city's planned capital projects would be "absolutely unacceptable."

Coun. Matt Allard (St. Boniface), who chairs Winnipeg’s infrastructure renewal and public works committee, said the report – which he had not seen before the Free Press provided a summary – highlights the financial bind the city is facing.

"For a lot of people those kinds of property tax increases would mean the different between buying groceries and paying their mortgage. We’re going to have to have conversations about revenue, but also about what capital projects do we really need to do," Allard said.

The report indicates Winnipeg could attempt to tap into combined funding of $1.2 billion from the provincial and federal governments. However, Allard said recent history shows the city can’t rely on the province to keep its word.

"It’s become increasingly obvious that in order to move forward on any major capital work that involves other levels of government, then we need to have a more reliable partner in the Province of Manitoba," Allard said.

"We had an existing agreement for road funding in place, then we built the roads and find out they won’t be paying. That makes things difficult. I think the road story is one to consider."

Winnipeg City Councillor Matt Allard, who chairs the city's infrastructure renewal and public works committee, said the report highlights the financial bind the city is facing.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Winnipeg City Councillor Matt Allard, who chairs the city's infrastructure renewal and public works committee, said the report highlights the financial bind the city is facing.

The 22 unfunded projects are spread through four city departments: Community Services; Public Works; Winnipeg Transit; and Water & Waste.

At this time, the projects have not been prioritized. The report – which will be tabled to EPC and, if approved, go to council – recommends the public service develop a prioritization list by the end of 2019.

Preliminary design studies have been completed for only three of the projects in question: the Arlington Bridge replacement; the Chief Peguis Trail extension; and the North End Sewage Treatment Plant.

Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Loren Remillard said he’s happy the city is casting its eye to the future in this way and he’s hopeful the report can stir a community conversation on how to fund needed development.

Loren Remillard, President and CEO of The Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Loren Remillard, President and CEO of The Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce.

However, under its current revenue model, he said Winnipeg’s hands are tied and it won’t be able to generate the revenue needed to address its infrastructure deficit of $6.9 billion.

"The infrastructure deficit and the capital projects are symptoms of a much larger problem that we have with our cities and that is the fact the revenue model is antiquated and based on the notion of wealth tied to property. We need something different," Remillard said.

"The province and the federal government benefit most from the movement of goods and services within cities and that’s because their revenue models are tried to economic growth, not property.

"Their tool boxes are much bigger and they have more tools in them. What we need to be talking about is changing the city’s toolbox."

Since the municipal government is governed by the City of Winnipeg Charter – which is a piece of provincial legislation – any change to the municipal revenue model would have to come from the province.

Remillard said the Manitoba Government wouldn’t have to reinvent the wheel to make changes, since other municipalities – in Europe, in particular – have already shifted away from a property-based revenue system.

"Across Canada, our cities don’t have the revenue model they need to be as successful as they can be. I think that’s quite troublesome. This is not just a Winnipeg issue, it’s a national issue. The time has come – actually, I’d argue the time came a while back – where we need a change," Remillard said.

"If we care about our city, we need to say the current model is broken. We need a new model, one that’s tied to economic growth."

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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