A cash-strapped City of Winnipeg is facing a financial hit of as much as $10 million if the province decides to refund fines to drivers caught speeding in wrongly marked construction zones.

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This article was published 11/5/2009 (4541 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

A cash-strapped City of Winnipeg is facing a financial hit of as much as $10 million if the province decides to refund fines to drivers caught speeding in wrongly marked construction zones.

St. Vital Coun. Gord Steeves, chairman of the protection and community services committee, told reporters Monday a decision to proceed with rebates by the province could have "huge implications" for the city and for the Winnipeg Police Service.

"It's very concerning from our perspective," Steeves said, adding the range of the financial shortfall is between $3 million and $10 million.

"If some of the things that seem to have been said actually materialize (such as if) there are massive refunds to people for tickets, I hope the expectation is not that somehow we as a city have to refund money to people out of our existing budgets. Obviously, that hasn't been budgeted for."

Steeves, whose committee is responsible for police and photo radar, also said if the province goes ahead with a fine rebate, it had better ante up. The province collects about 55 per cent of revenue from photo enforcement with the rest going to the city, which also pays ACS Public Sector Solutions for the equipment that runs the program.

"It did honestly seem to me that there were unilateral decisions that were being made that didn't have a lot to do with process and had a lot more to do with how people felt personally about the issue," Steeves said. "If somebody is of the mind that fines and penalties have to be reimbursed in their mind, I hope they take responsibility for the financial end of it as well.

"It is, in my assertion, inappropriate for one order or level of government to make unilateral decisions that have huge implications for the bottom line of another government without consulting with them well in advance."

In the lead-up to crafting this year's operating budget, city councillors and bureaucrats had counted on the extra photo-radar fine revenue to help make up an $11.5-million shortfall.

Steeve's words are the latest sign of the bad blood between Broadway and city hall as the construction zone photo-radar controversy heads into its second week. That controversy started with the Crown's decision to stay 875 speeding cases and is now in limbo as justice officials weigh refunding some of the 60,000 other speeding tickets issued in 2008.

In response, the Doer government went on the counterattack by taking aim at not only the city, but also the opposition Tories.

"I don't know whether there's a lot of consultation within the City of Winnipeg," Premier Gary Doer said. "The issue of having a sign placed by the city before the construction was met under the law. The issue of having a sign after the construction site was not complied with by the city."

Doer also said photo enforcement was ushered in under former police chief Jack Ewatski so officers could be redeployed to the front lines, fighting criminals.

"Police officers can be used to prevent crime in different places and enforce the justice system in other places when technology could help them out," Doer said.

"We'll stand with police on this. It is difficult, but we'll stand with them."

Doer also cited figures from police that show more than a 60 per cent decrease in right-angle collisions at the original 12 intersections where red-light cameras were installed and a smaller percentage decrease in injuries.

"The Tories now are promising to get rid of them," Doer said. "They're calling it a scam. They want to get rid of them in school grounds and playgrounds. We'll have a good old-fashioned political debate about that, but I'm going to tell people right now we're standing with the police."

However, Doer said Attorney General Dave Chomiak will consult with the city on the issue of a potential refund.

The Tories have launched an online petition to pressure the province to refund ticket fines to all but the worst speeding offenders.

"There's really no budgetary impact on money that should have never been collected in the first place," Conservative Leader Hugh McFadyen said. "It's quite manageable if the government is prepared to be fair with Manitoba."

McFadyen also said the Tories will examine the issue of photo radar in construction zones and consult with city and police before developing a party position on it.

 

bruce.owen@freepress.mb.ca gabrielle.giroday@freepress.mb.ca