Opposition is emerging to a proposal from Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman to transition council from setting annual budgets to four-year operating budgets.
Coun. Brian Mayes was the lone member of the executive policy committee to vote against the proposal at its meeting Wednesday.
Mayes, chairman of council’s environment committee, said four-year budget cycles are undemocratic, troublesome efforts. He also questioned their value, and the time and effort it takes to develop them, since they are subject to change annually.
"What (is) the point of the multi-year thing if it can be changed on an annual basis?" Mayes (St. Vital) said at the meeting. "Things change year to year. Priorities do change. You have to have the ability to deal with that."
The proposal for a four-year budget cycle was introduced by Coun. Scott Gillingham, chairman of council’s finance committee, who said he had been instructed to develop the initiative by Bowman through his mandate letter.
Council will consider the proposal at its meeting next week. If approved, the first four-year budget cycle would begin in January 2020 and carry through to end of 2023. (A copy of the report can be found at: wfp.to/Kzd.)
Gillingham (St. James-Brooklands-Weston) said multi-year budgets are considered to be a best practice recognized by a national association of finance officials, adding it allows council to align its budget more closely with long-term planning, and provide residents with certainty of future property-tax increases and service levels. However, they still would be subject to review and change on an annual basis.
Bowman acknowledged multi-year budgets can only be successful if the provincial and federal governments provide municipalities with similar long-range commitments on funding contributions — which does not happen currently.
Mayes said he’s troubled by the authority city officials now have over department budgets, and he doesn’t want to give them any more.
"I don’t really feel I’m bound by the position of unelected staff who say the best practice is not to consult the public annually," he said. "I don’t think it is a best practice to surrender more authority over the budget to unelected folks."
Mayes said multi-year budgets will remove the influence and authority of any council member elected mid-term in a byelection, who would arrive on council to find the budget already determined.
"I think the best practice is to do an annual consultation with the public, to get their priorities," Mayes said.
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.