Winnipeggers should temper expectations ahead of Wednesday’s budget discussion, says committee chair

After a year still impacted by COVID-19 and snowfall that scooped millions from the city’s coffers, the chair of the city’s finance committee said Winnipeggers shouldn’t get their hopes up too high ahead of Wednesday’s proposed city budget.

“It’d be nice to deliver a whole basket of a lot of new fun stuff, but again, due to the financial realities, just trying to temper people’s expectations,” said Coun. Jeff Browaty.

During his campaign for mayor, Scott Gillingham pledged to hike property taxes by 3.5 per cent along with increasing frontage levies.

“I think one of the reasons a lot of people bought into this increase in property tax was the hope that that would fix a lot of the issues in better times,” said Aaron Moore, associate professor and chair, University of Winnipeg political science department.

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“He’s not going to want to break that in his first year in his first budget as mayor, but it will be constraining. Those increases in property tax might be insufficient or at the very least, still make it very difficult. Although I don’t expect he’s going to exceed the property tax increases he initially promised during the election.”

Other issues at the front of mind for Winnipeggers are crime and transit safety, such as creating a new transit security force, which has been talked about at length given the recent increase in transit safety concerns.

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“There’s a lot of these security concerns about transit. There are concerns about crime in the city in general and about drug use. And these are all things that are really weighing on the city.” said Moore.

“I think the mayor is going to want to address that in the budget, but I think it’s going to be difficult for him to do that, given the resources that are available.”

In January, Premier Heather Stefanson hinted the province would bump up the amount of money it transferred to the city but Browaty said there’s no word on that yet.

“We’ve suffered with lower transit ridership, lower parking revenues and higher costs for things like fuel labor.”

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 “It’s been quite challenging for all municipal governments in Manitoba and across the country to deal with these realities while trying to keep taxes, of course, as affordable as possible for residents.”

Browaty said some help from the feds and the province would definitely be appreciated “we are still waiting for word on our base grant from the provincial government. It’s been frozen since 2017.”

“I’m hoping that this staffing we’re seeing with the province. Will lead to more revenue from the province for a lot of things,” said Moore.

The city will need to make sure its rainy-day fund is replenished and watch its spending.

“They’re going to need to put some money into it because if they don’t and at the end of the year, we’re running a deficit, that makes things very difficult in the next year since legally you can’t run an operating deficit if you’re a municipality,” said Moore.

The budget will be tabled around 2 p.m. on Wednesday.

With files from Global’s Rosanna Hempel

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