December 8, 2019

Winnipeg
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Water, waste department weathers austerity winds

An unpleasant surprise looms for Winnipeg's churches, small-business operators and owners of small-scale residential blocks.

The water and waste department is proposing to terminate garbage collection for those properties — one of several cost-saving measures in its 2020-23 budget plan.

Moira Geer, director of the water and waste department.

BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Moira Geer, director of the water and waste department.

Moira Geer, director of water and waste, said the current contracts for garbage collection at about 1,600 affected properties would be allowed to lapse and not be renewed. That would mean a savings of $1.6 million in 2022 and $3.5 million in 2023 for the department.

"They would have to hire somebody to pick up their garbage," Geer told reporters Thursday.

Water and waste appears to have weathered the recent austerity move at city hall with minimal disruption.

As with police and Winnipeg Transit, the department is facing a two per cent growth cap on its tax-supported operations. However, as the department relies to a great extent on revenues from water and sewer bills, the cap will have minimal impact on its operations (which include the Brady Road landfill, recycling, and land drainage).

Geer said the affected properties had been receiving garbage collection as part of their taxpaying services. Under the new budget, they’ll lose those services — but with no accompanying reduction in their tax bill.

"I think what’s being put forward by all the departments (as budget-saving moves) are probably not the easiest decisions or things to consider," Geer said. "That’s the reality. That’s where the elected officials make those decisions."

“I think what’s being put forward by all the departments (as budget-saving moves) are probably not the easiest decisions or things to consider. That’s the reality. That’s where the elected officials make those decisions.” – Moira Geer, director of water and waste for the City of Winnipeg

Other cost-saving moves by the department include:

— Reducing the number of after-hours emergency crews to one (from two);

— Ending the annual flushing of water main lines;

— Eliminating 16 full-time equivalent positions over four years.

Meanwhile, the situation is more grim for the city’s riverbank management division.

Councillors were told the four-year budget freeze on the property, planning and development department also extends to its riverbank stabilization efforts.

Kendall Thiessen, the city’s riverbank engineer, said while there are about 20 public sites considered in critical need of stabilization, the city is carrying out only one project over the next four years (near Wellington Crescent and Academy Road, at a cost of about $1.6 million).

Thiessen said the division has no funds to carry out any other work.

Cindy Gilroy, city councillor and chairwoman of the water and waste, riverbank management and environment committee.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Cindy Gilroy, city councillor and chairwoman of the water and waste, riverbank management and environment committee.

Coun. Cindy Gilroy, chairwoman of the water and waste, riverbank management and environment committee, told reporters the proposed program cuts are a grim reality of the city’s financial situation.

Gilroy said residents will be given an opportunity to tell council what they think of the cuts at a series of public meetings (the committee will hear public delegations Nov. 25) and whether they’re prepared to endure higher property tax increases to spare some programs.

She said the budget caps imposed are a starting point for discussion.

"I don’t know what other (suggestions) could come forward from the public," Gilroy said. "I plan on listening to everybody’s recommendation before I make a final decision on council."

Geer told councillors on the committee there will be no impacts to the landfill operations or the recycling and waste diversion divisions.

She said the budget moves have been done without a determination of any possible increase in water and sewer bills, explaining that would be a decision made by council likely early in the new year.

The annual water main flushing was only recently initiated by the department in response to the discoloured water problem that hit the city hard in 2015. While annual flushing of the water mains is considered a best practice, Geer said other measures taken since have resulted in a drop in reports of discoloured water.

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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