Another day, another surprise for civic officials about the provincial budget.
While city hall is still dealing with ramifications from the Pallister government's decision to unilaterally alter existing funding agreements, councillors on the finance committee learned Thursday that there are new concerns for Winnipeg Transit, ambulance service and libraries.
Mike Ruta, Winnipeg's chief financial officer, said the city is getting $5.1 million less from the province for Transit this year than it had budgeted, it’s uncertain how the province will provide the $2 million it contributes to the library system and Ruta has questions about Winnipeg Regional Health Authority’s continued commitment to pay for the city’s cost of delivering ambulance services.
Finance chairman Coun. Scott Gillingham said it’s expected the city won’t have to make service or program adjustments this year, but the uncertainty surrounding the amount of provincial funding is making it difficult to work out a budget for 2018.
"It does introduce challenges," Gillingham said. "We do have infrastructure plans and other capital projects that we’re committed to, to address the needs of a growing city. If funding levels are less than we anticipated, then it does present us a challenge we’ll have to address."
Ruta said city hall is facing a first-quarter projected deficit of $13.6 million, but that can be reduced to $6.7 million through a series of financial moves. He said projected deficits aren’t unexpected at this time of the year, adding the city usually manages to eliminate the deficit by end of the year.
As far as the provincial budget impact on Winnipeg Transit, Ruta said the result of the province’s decision to eliminate 50-50 cost-sharing for operational costs and bus purchases will result in an additional $5.1-million expense for the city.
Transit is proposing to reduce the number of buses it had planned to buy this year, from 31 to 29 — saving $1.4 million — and keep two older buses that were destined to be taken out of service.
Gillingham said it’s hoped that as the year progresses, Winnipeg Transit can make up the remaining $3.7 million or council will have to find the funds elsewhere.
"We’re not looking at cuts to transit service presently," he said.
Ruta told reporters he’ll meet soon with officials from the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority to discuss the ambulance service question.
The city had budgeted $69 million for ambulance services in 2017, with $29.3 million from the WRHA. But the WRHA funding amount anticipated an increase of $4.1 million from last year, which the province has been unwilling to provide for other civic services.
Ruta said he can’t be certain the city won’t face additional costs for ambulance services.
"Unfortunately I won’t be able to answer that until I meet with them.... We had a funding agreement previously and we’d like to understand what the nature of the funding is going forward," he said.
Civic officials were puzzled when the province omitted its contribution to the city’s library services from the spring budget, but Ruta said he expects the funding commitment will be renewed. The Tories gave the city a little more than $2 million towards its $30-million library program last year and the city budgeted for the same amount this year.
A provincial spokeswoman said the $2-million funding for Winnipeg's library system will be maintained and provided by the libraries branch of Manitoba Sport, Culture and Heritage.
Caitlin MacGregor, press secretary for Indigenous and municipal Relations Minister Eileen Clarke, said the province is providing Winnipeg the same dollar amounts for 2017 that the city received in 2016.