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Multi-year city budget seeks annual 2.33 per cent property tax increase

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 18/10/2019 (340 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The City of Winnipeg has launched its first multi-year budget process, calling for years-long spending freezes in many departments and a 2.33 per cent property tax increase in each of the next four years.

Mayor Brian Bowman and finance committee chairman Coun. Scott Gillingham proposed Friday to get there, the police, fire, transit, and water and waste departments have been asked to limit themselves to annual increases of two per cent, public works to 1.5 per cent, and community services to 0.5 per cent.

Bowman said all other civic departments are being told they will have no budget increases during the next four years.

The mayor said it would mean taxpayers would be looking at a 2.33 per cent property tax increase annually for four years, starting in 2020.

When asked if the budget means city staff will be laid-off or services cut, Bowman wouldn't commit, repeatedly saying: "We have some very difficult choices to make."

(Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press)

(Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press)

"Balancing the budgets over the next four years, it's going to involve a lot of listening, a lot of collaboration, and a lot of very difficult decisions and choices to be made by every member of council."

Gillingham said the end result will help the city.

"I strongly believe the outcome is worth it to residents of Winnipeg," he said. "Introducing a four-year balanced budget will help the city with long-term sustainable planning... (It) aims to control expenses, invest in priority services, drive efficiency, achieve sustainability, and bring greater certainty for taxpayers."

To address past complaints by some city councillors, all 16 elected members of council will be involved in the budget process, starting next month at special meetings of standing committees.

Gillingham said while a four-year budget is being planned (which would overlap over the first term of the next elected council), by law, every year's budget has to be approved by council — so there will be the ability for annual tweaks, as needed.

Bowman said not only will the new budget process be transparent for all councillors, it will also be open to the public.

"Balancing the budgets over the next four years, it's going to involve a lot of listening, a lot of collaboration, and a lot of very difficult decisions and choices to be made by every member of council." – Councillor Scott Gillingham

"What typically happens outside the glare of the media and the livestream is departments will have discussions with executive policy committee about their recommendations that form the basis of the budget," he said. "They'll be doing that now in an open and transparent way at each respective committee."

However, some councillors have already expressed displeasure at the new process.

Coun. Kevin Klein said before multi-year budgeting is done, he wants the city to hold a zero-based budget review (in which all expenses must be justified for each new period).

Klein, a former newspaper publisher, said telling departments the percentage increase — or freeze — they have to live with is the wrong way to go in budgeting.

"I've had to lay people off because we've budgeted like that in the past. It was never a good feeling," he told the mayor and councillors at the special executive policy committee set up to approve the budget process meeting schedule.

"This would never happen in a family's home. This would never happen in the private sector... Zero-based budgeting has to happen."

Coun. Janice Lukes said she was displeased with the budget process' meeting schedule, because she believes morning meetings will likely overlap over afternoon meetings, preventing councillors from providing input at both.

"It really doesn't matter. I just want to say I'm not happy about it," Lukes said.

The budget is expected to be passed by the end of March, following months of debate and consultation.

kevin.rollason@freepress.mb.ca

Kevin Rollason

Kevin Rollason
Reporter

Kevin Rollason is one of the more versatile reporters at the Winnipeg Free Press. Whether it is covering city hall, the law courts, or general reporting, Rollason can be counted on to not only answer the 5 Ws — Who, What, When, Where and Why — but to do it in an interesting and accessible way for readers.

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