Keeping Winnipeg’s government affordable
This summer, mayoral and city council candidates will be knocking on your door, asking for your vote. Some will make costly promises to win that vote. Or they will promise tax freezes or cuts as if those are easy to deliver. I want to put Winnipeg’s finances into proper context before that happens.
Some critics are quick to claim that Winnipeg is pouring on new spending. The math tells a different story.
As chair of city council’s budget process from late 2016 until early 2022, I delivered seven budgets. Those budgets grew operating spending by less than a half-point more than national inflation rates, on average. With families worried about affordability, we even kept the 2022 budget operating increase to 1.2 per cent when we introduced it in November — while inflation was already much higher, at 4.7 per cent. We controlled operating costs even as we increased capital investment in roads, bridges, sewer upgrades and transit.
Many Winnipeggers dislike property taxes. As affordability challenges grow, I understand that. But the facts are: City Hall’s 2022 property tax increase was below average for Canada’s Top 10 cities. According to a 2020 City of Calgary survey, Winnipeg collects less per capita in property tax than 10 comparable cities.
If that surprises you, remember: a big part of your property tax bill is still collected by school boards, which are outside City Hall’s control.
We have been able to deliver these results in part because of a big policy change that I am proud of. Winnipeg now prepares multi-year balanced budgets. This process encourages City Hall to look for substantial, sustainable long-term savings that don’t always get big headlines, such as bulk fuel buys to secure a fixed discount, or better labour contracts with city employees.
None of this gives us room to be complacent. There are always new opportunities to deliver better value for money. There are also tough new problems on the horizon — inflation is rising and some city services do need more investments to improve. COVID-19 costs forced us to draw on our emergency reserves, and we need to replenish them. We have a good foundation in place, but we also have tough choices ahead.
St. James ward report
Scott Gillingham is the city councillor for St. James.