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Councillors reject call to scrap 36% cut to urban forest spending

Committee says it has no choice but to approve budget

John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press Files</p><p>Winnipeg's elm canopy. City councillors endorsed the proposed 2019 parks department budget, which calls for a 36 per cent decrease in its reforestation and urban forest enhancement spending.</p>

John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press Files

Winnipeg's elm canopy. City councillors endorsed the proposed 2019 parks department budget, which calls for a 36 per cent decrease in its reforestation and urban forest enhancement spending.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 8/3/2019 (449 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

An appeal from residents for city hall to spend more money to save the urban forest fell on deaf ears Friday.

Councillors endorsed the proposed 2019 parks department budget, which calls for a 36 per cent decrease in its reforestation and urban forest enhancement spending.

"The parks and urban forestry budget has been underfunded for years and status quo is not good enough for the long-term health of the urban forest," Pam Lucenkiw, a member of the community advocacy group Ours-Winnipeg, told the committee.

The parks and urban forestry budget was one of three department budgets endorsed unanimously by the protection, community services and parks committee.

The committee (councillors Sherri Rollins, John Orlikow, Ross Eadie and Vivian Santos) also endorsed budgets for the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Services and the community services department.

"The city is under pressure everywhere, but I have to support" the department budgets as presented, Eadie said.

After two days of department reviews, councillors have not made any changes to budgets. The other departments endorsed include Winnipeg police, riverbank management, public works, Winnipeg Transit and water and waste.

On Monday, the innovation committee will consider a plan in the budget to establish an innovation department and examine the budgets of animal services, golf courses, fleet management and the Winnipeg Parking Authority. Later in the day, the budget of the planning, property and development department will be reviewed.

Elmwood resident Lisa Forbes, a member of the Glenelm Neighbourhood Association, told the parks committee that city hall profits from the protection of its trees, explaining that studies show tree-lined streets increase the value of a home by 25 per cent, which increases the tax base and city revenue.

The parks department presentation supported the residents’ concerns. Dave Domke, manager of parks, said that while the city has grown and the number of parks and boulevards has increased, he’s seen a decrease in his department budget and an inability to maintain trees and green space.

The division’s budget shows a 36 per cent decrease on efforts to protect the urban forest, from $7.1 million to $4.5 million.

Lucenkiw said the city will lose all of its ash trees within 10 years, accounting for 30 per cent of its urban forest, but the reforestation budget has been slashed.

She said the budget shows 8,668 trees were removed from city property in 2017 but only 2,448 trees were planted, and there is no plan to replace river corridor trees.

"The urban forest is much more than a lovely thing to look at or even a luxury, a perception that could make it easy to dismiss," Lucenkiw said. "It must be recognized for the necessary services it provides. Your decision today will determine how our city will look in 10 years from now and for future generations."

Coun. John Orlikow said that while city hall is often criticized for its spending, it’s clear that spending isn’t the problem with the parks division.

"We don’t have a spending problem, we have a revenue problem" at parks, Orlikow said. "So where do we find the funds?"

A proposal from Eadie for an additional 0.25 per cent property tax increase to fund neighbourhood-based safety and anti-crime initiatives was defeated in a tie vote. The proposal will be considered by Mayor Brian Bowman and members of his executive policy committee.

"People want us to do something," Eadie said.


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Updated on Saturday, March 9, 2019 at 8:12 AM CST: Final

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