Funding for lifeguard recruitment, downtown public washroom among last-minute changes to Winnipeg budget

Winnipeg Mayor Scott Gillingham’s inner circle met Tuesday to hash out some last-minute changes to the 2023 budget.

One of the biggest changes since the release of the draft budget on Feb. 8 is the thawing of the freeze on provincial grants to the City of Winnipeg. 

Last month, the province announced it would increase the city’s grant for the first time since 2017. The city now has $16.7 million more in its operating budget.

At a special meeting of the executive policy committee on Tuesday, finance committee chair Jeff Browaty said most of that money is going to two areas.

The city will make a one-time transfer of $4.6 million to replenish its fiscal stabilization fund, which it drained to make up for a record $83-million deficit last year.

It’s also reducing the corporate efficiencies target — the amount of money city departments are expected to save — by $11.4 million to $22.1 million.

This will take some pressure off city services, Browaty told reporters after the meeting.

“We’re always looking for our departments to run as efficiently as possible, but we’ve had issues in the past where sometimes difficult decisions have been made that perhaps have affected services. So we’ve hopefully avoided that by doing this,” he said.

Due to the size of last year’s deficit, councillors don’t have much room to add items to the $1.3-billion budget.

On Tuesday, EPC members added $150,000 for lifeguard recruitment and retention. Last year, the city was forced to close some pools early and cancel some programs due to an inability to hire enough staff.

A program that offered free training has made some progress to closing that gap, but Gillingham said more funding was needed.

“Anyone who’s a parent today who tried to sign their kids up for swimming lessons, some of them were successful, and some of them are on a wait list,” he said. 

“So this is an investment so that fewer parents are on a wait list to get swimming lessons for their kids.”

The city also increased the grant to Ma Mawi Wii Chi Itata Centre to operate its downtown public washroom. A city report last month recommended cutting the hours at the washroom on Main Street from 10 hours a day to eight hours, due to demand exceeding its $200,000 budget.

EPC members voted to increase funding for the washroom to $250,000.

Lead-in-soil funding added

They also added $450,000 to pay for soil remediation at Mission Park and Weston Memorial Community Centre hockey rink, two sites where high lead levels have been found.

The work at Mission Park will cost $139,000 and will be completed this year, while the work at Weston Community Centre will cost $311,000 and be completed next year.

Gillingham says this gives the city an opportunity to address something of public concern.

“We want to make sure that the sites that we are using for recreational purposes are in good condition. And so this is an investment that I think is really important and I think the public would expect.”

One item on the agenda for Tuesday’s meeting that will not be added to the agenda is funding to convert a floor of the Millennium Library Parkade into secure parking for Winnipeg police officers.

The police union had raised safety concerns about officers walking to their vehicles from the downtown police headquarters, and demanded the city make efforts to provide secure parking.

The city offered to give them a floor in the parkade, on the condition that enough officers express interest to fill each available parking stall.

That threshold has not been met, so the project will not proceed, Gillingham said.

Council will cast the final vote on the budget at a special meeting on Wednesday.

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