2015 Budget tabled today
The City of Winnipeg's 2015 Operating and Capital Budgets were made public this afternoon. If you wish to view the documents they should be available later today at www.winnipeg.ca. I also shared in a previous e-newsletter the list of meetings and opportunities to speak or present to council committees on the budget, which you can find here.
Initial thoughts on the 2015 Budget
After receiving a relatively short overview of the budget this morning, it is clear that this budget contains many positives and some negatives as well. Keep in mind I haven't yet read the fine print, but here are some initial pluses and minuses:
On the positive side:
- Increase in Winnipeg Arts Council Funding over two years to $7 per capita
- Reinstatement of civic museums funding cut by previous council
- Funding for 5 years to United Way's Plan to End Homelessness
- Increased funding for Active Transportation (although wish there was more)
- 2.5 million for future Rapid Transit planning and design
- Establishment of a Traffic Management Centre as recommended by auditor
- No wading pool closures
- Significant investments in local and regional streets
- New capital funding for Crescent Drive Park for new play equipment in 2016
On the not-so-positive side:
- Reduction in funding for flower planting for downtown and image routes
- Reduction in street sweeping for summer and fall
- Potential reduction in indoor pool hours
- Business tax rate reduction of .1 % (includes large businesses) continuing cost shift to residents
- Higher levels of vacancy management leaving many staff positions unfilled
- Very minor tax increase, but increases in frontage levy and water utility dividend
On the not-quite-sure-yet side:
-Funding plan for 2nd phase of Southwest Transitway includes a .33% property tax increase and a ONE TIME 5 cent fare increase in 2016 to be placed in a fund for when payments are required in 2020. Funding has to be identified for this rapid transit investment and this is a more balanced approach than the previous council's proposal of adding a much larger burden of 25 cents on transit riders. However, it still seems wrong to place an additional cost on those who choose a sustainable form of transportation that reduces congestion and pollution which benefits everyone.
Putting it all in perspective (or Jenny's rant)
It is important to recognize that the City of Winnipeg was left in an extremely challenging fiscal situation by the previous 10 years of Council direction or lack thereof.
Cities are required by law to balance the budget but the money has to come from somewhere.
Operating budget costs are the least sexy aspect of budgeting and politicians are reluctant to make promises on investing in operating the basic services citizens require. It's much more appealing to announce new buildings or projects. After years of tax freezes and cuts, there is not a lot of room left and service reductions become inevitable.
Like many cities, Winnipeg faces the ongoing challenges of an infrastructure deficit, crumbling existing infrastructure, deferred investment in sustainable transportation such as rapid transit, and sprawling development that has been allowed to happen without adequate growth charges in place to cover the costs.
Our gas tax money has been spent and we are reaching our debt limit. At the same time, infrastructure programs and politicians of all levels of government expect the city to share the cost of building new overpasses, underpasses and expansions of expensive roadway networks to serve sprawling suburban car oriented development. Meanwhile, some of us have a dream of being a modern city with a complete rapid transit and active transportation network as well.
I am hoping that, under Mayor Bowman's leadership and with the support of council we will embark on a more collaborative budget process for both council and the community in the coming year. As well, I hope to see us explore strategic ways of finding new revenue, addressing the need for growth to pay for growth and also making better choices to invest in ways that make our city sustainable.