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Homeowners' water bills increasing to pay for city roads

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Winnipeg City Councillor Marty Morantz and chair of the finance committee answers reporters questions during the city budget lockup Wednesday afternoon prior to the budget presentation to the EPC. 160302 Wednesday, March 02, 2016</p>

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Winnipeg City Councillor Marty Morantz and chair of the finance committee answers reporters questions during the city budget lockup Wednesday afternoon prior to the budget presentation to the EPC. 160302 Wednesday, March 02, 2016

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 3/3/2016 (1052 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Increases to the water and sewer rates are being used to help pay for city roads, drawing criticism from a provincial cabinet minister.

Finance chairman Coun. Marty Morantz confirmed Thursday that part of the revenue from water and sewer bills now goes to help offset the cost of road building and repairs and that practice will continue for the foreseeable future.

"I think what people are happy to hear about is that we're fixing our roads and we need to generate revenue in our operating budget to make sure that happens — that is the number one priority of the citizens of Winnipeg," Morantz (Charleswood-Tuxedo-Whyte Ridge) said following the meeting of the finance committee. "The fact the (water and waste department) is in the position to assist the city accomplishing that goal is something all citizens are and will be happy about."

An administrative report to the city's environment committee meeting is proposing a series of increases in the water and sewer rates for 2016-2018, with proposed annual increases of 9.2 per cent effective April 1; another 8.9 per cent in 2017 and a further 7.4 per cent in 2018 per cent.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 3/3/2016 (1052 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Increases to the water and sewer rates are being used to help pay for city roads, drawing criticism from a provincial cabinet minister.

Finance chairman Coun. Marty Morantz confirmed Thursday that part of the revenue from water and sewer bills now goes to help offset the cost of road building and repairs and that practice will continue for the foreseeable future.

"I think what people are happy to hear about is that we're fixing our roads and we need to generate revenue in our operating budget to make sure that happens — that is the number one priority of the citizens of Winnipeg," Morantz (Charleswood-Tuxedo-Whyte Ridge) said following the meeting of the finance committee. "The fact the (water and waste department) is in the position to assist the city accomplishing that goal is something all citizens are and will be happy about."

An administrative report to the city's environment committee meeting is proposing a series of increases in the water and sewer rates for 2016-2018, with proposed annual increases of 9.2 per cent effective April 1; another 8.9 per cent in 2017 and a further 7.4 per cent in 2018 per cent.

The immediate impact will be a $23 increase on the typical household's quarterly bill, with further annual quarterly increases of $25 and $23, if approved.

The increases in the water and sewer rates will be discussed at Friday's environment committee meeting.

The report, prepared by the water and waste department, said the increases are necessary to offset the department's operating costs and build up financial reserves needed for $1 billion in required upgrades to the city's water and sewage treatment plants.

However, Morantz said the city dips into the water and sewer account every year to help balance its budget, adding the city will use $32 million to pay for the cost of new roads and repairing existing roads.

The administrative report states council will take 12 per cent of revenues from water and sewer bills, an estimated $416 million over the next 10 years.

The proposed water and sewer rate increase is in addition to the 2.33 per cent property tax increase announced in Wednesday's preliminary budget, and an additional 25 per cent increase in the frontage levy. Combined, the two charges will increase the typical $288,000 assessed home with a 50-foot frontage with an additional charge of $93.

Morantz and Mayor Brian Bowman defended the budget increases. All of the additional revenue from the frontage levy is being directed to roads, as is two percentage points of the property tax increases.

Morantz said the $1 billion in upgrades to the water and sewage treatment plants is being forced upon the city by the provincial government, adding neither the provincial government nor Ottawa is providing enough assistance to city hall to cover the cost of that work.

"The cost of the (plant) upgrades was something that was downloaded upon us by the province of Manitoba... that is the main driver of water rates," Morantz said.

But a member of the Selinger cabinet said the city is acting "shamelessly" by taking water rates revenues and using the money for roads instead of plant upgrades.

Tom Nevakshonoff, minister of Conservation and Natural Resources, said the province and the public have been waiting years for city hall to carry out the sewage plant upgrades and instead, the city is using revenue that should be going to the plant upgrades for roadwork.

"Yes, we all like good roads and streets but the sewer/water levy is supposed to go toward sewer and water infrastructure, so that’s where we would like to see this," Nevakshonoff said. "To see this, I guess they call it a dividend, being drawn and quite shamelessly drawn, being put towards roads and now increased. I think the point has been reached where we need to start actually talking about these big plans."

Morantz said the city needs to take money from the water and sewer revenues to offset the cost of roads. He said the practice was first established by the Sam Katz administration, when it took eight per cent of the water and sewer revenues. Council last year increased that amount — which he called a dividend — to 12 per cent.

Morantz said the recent budget consultation process was proof to him that Winnipeggers want their roads fixed more than they care about spending money to upgrade the water and sewage treatment plants and prevent the spillage of raw and partially treated waste into the city's rivers.

"The number one priority of the citizens of Winnipeg is to see that our roads are fixed," Morantz said. "I think people are going to be very happy that we're fixing the roads and how we're doing it has never been done before... I think that part of that revenue is coming from the water utility is something that is a good thing because it's assisting us accomplishing the number one goal that most Winnipeggers want."

Morantz said the city expects to borrow $700 million for the necessary upgrades to the sewer and water plant upgrades. While the amount of borrowing could be reduced, he admitted, if the city took less, or none, of the water and sewer revenue, he said that's not going to happen.

"Government is about setting priorities and the reality is everyone knows the streets in Winnipeg are our biggest problem.

Morantz acknowledged the proposed percentage increases to the water and sewer rates far outstrip inflation but defended them because of the financial pressures facing the department.

— With files from Kristin Annable

aldo.santin@freepress.mb.ca

Aldo Santin

Aldo Santin
Reporter

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.

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History

Updated on Thursday, March 3, 2016 at 1:16 PM CST: Updated with writethru.

2:09 PM: Adds photo, tweaks headline.

3:24 PM: Updates headline.

6:26 PM: Updates with photo

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