Submissions made by more than a dozen people at a public hearing at city hall Monday night to save what they consider to be vital grants and services for their organizations have so far fallen on deaf ears.
Councillors on the environment committee Friday voted 3-1 to endorse all the program cuts proposed by the water and waste department and the city’s riverbank management division.
The department cuts included terminating garbage and recycling pick-up at churches and small-scale apartments and condominiums, and the annual $30,000 grant to the Save Our Seine, a group of community volunteers that look after the Seine River, its greenway and riverbank.
While the public had been repeatedly told that the new four-year budget process would allow councillors on each committee to propose alternatives to a series of department cuts, none was forthcoming at Friday’s meeting.
Committee chairwoman Coun. Cindy Gilroy defended the process and said all the budget cuts will now be considered by council’s budget working group, whose members have not been formally identified but will likely consist of Mayor Brian Bowman and members of his executive policy committee plus Couns. Markus Chambers and Vivian Santos.
Gilroy said the submissions made by residents who attended the committee’s Monday night meeting will be forwarded to the budget working group for consideration, adding it’s possible some of the grants targeted for termination might be saved.
"Maybe, maybe not," Gilroy said when asked if the Save Our Seine grant might still be retained.
Coun. Kevin Klein was the lone vote against the budget plan cuts. He said he wouldn’t vote for any of the department budget plans, explaining that councillors have been given too little time during this process to study department plans or offer meaningful alternatives.
The only addition the committee made was to recommend $250,000 be spent on a riverbank stabilization project at 404 DeSaleberry Avenue – city-owned land currently leased to a seniors' residential co-operative.
While the City of Winnipeg Charter Act assigns responsibility for developing a draft budget to the mayor and members of executive policy committee, finance chairman Coun. Scott Gillingham later confirmed that Bowman has not yet formally picked the budget working group members. For the last three years, the budget working group had consisted of Bowman and his EPC councillors (who also double as chairmen of council’s standing committees) and two other councillors who were not members of EPC – the deputy mayor and acting deputy mayor at the time.
Gillingham said the committee recommendations on service cuts coming out of the recent process will be examined by the budget working group in January.
When asked the purpose of the committee’s Friday meeting when all it did was refer all the cuts to the budget working group, Gilroy said there was still an opportunity for a member of the committee to offer alternative budget proposals. She added the committee also had to deal with referrals previously made by the committee for budget considerations, of which there were only two discussed at Friday’s meeting.
"I do want people to recognize we are at the beginning and it is getting them to understand what the process is going to be coming down. They had an opportunity to come and speak on the issues they are passionate about and I think that’s really important that we get that public engagement," Gilroy told reporters following the meeting.
"At the end of the day, we’re going to be looking at this process and reviewing it. There’s some really great things that have happened during this new process – longer time frame, more engagement – and there might be some things that we might want to change in the future."
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.
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