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Libraries, transit prioritized in proposed Winnipeg budget, pool closures, rate hikes coming

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The second four-year balanced budget has been released by the City of Winnipeg.

The budget features more services being made available for Winnipeggers; however, there are some price hikes to make these services possible.

Mayor Scott Gillingham is following through on his election promise by holding steady on a 3.5 per cent property tax increase throughout the four-year budget, which goes until 2027. Two per cent of that increase will be used to invest in road repairs.

General fees will increase five per cent in 2024 and 2025 and then 2.5 per cent in 2026 and 2027.

Coun. Jeff Browaty – the chair of the finance committee – said the general fee increases are so the city can catch up to inflation over the next four years, but the city made sure to put a cap on the increase at the five per cent mark.

Homeowners will have to pay more for garbage and recycling - from $70 to $80 - and in 2025 a new $46 apartment and condo collection fee would be implemented.

Winnipeg Transit

The price to ride the bus for adults will start to increase with an annual $.10 jump, but the rate will freeze for the low-income WINNpass in 2024.

Some of the possible changes coming for transit include an automatic fare collection system upgrade, which would cost around $6.5 million; safety shields for drivers in 2024 and four expanded routes in the city - Castlebury Meadows and Waterford Green, Aurora, Prairie Pointe and Sage Creek.

The Community Safety Team will also launch.

City council would direct transit to have services fully restored by 2025.

Police

The city is looking to implement a new 911 charge for every registered phone in the city. The cost would be $1 a month per phone, creating roughly $7.5 million a year. The money would be used to help modernize the 911 system, which could include text, photo and video submissions to first responders. The city notes this is a similar practice in other cities across the country. The plan would require provincial approval.

"(The new 911 system is) about $10 million, so the budget proposes that we take this step this year," said Browaty.

Kate Kehler, the executive director of the Social Planning Council of Winnipeg, said she didn't like seeing the proposed 911 cost being added to phone bills.

"We're asking people who are already struggling to pay a phone bill to put maybe $1, $2, $3, $4 per month when in Canada we pay such high rates already," said Kehler.

Kehler would prefer the city do a more equitable property tax and put it on a sliding scale – meaning higher property rates would pay higher property taxes and lower rates would pay lower taxes.

She thinks if there was change to how the property tax was collected, some of these new fees wouldn't be needed.

The city is also talking with the Winnipeg Police Service and the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service to look at consolidating their 911 systems.

Wading pools and splash pads

There will also be changes to the number of pools and splash pads that operate in the city. As part of the budget, the city plans on replacing or decommissioning 20 wading pools, close three pools and invest $20 million to create 10 new splash pads throughout Winnipeg.

"The plan would phase out more wadding pools, many of which are at the end of their functional life and which are costly to maintain and operate," said Browaty.

Gord Delbridge, the president of CUPE Local 500, said there are some positives and negatives in the budget.

"It's unfortunate that we're seeing some pool closures, but on a positive note, we're seeing some increases to recreation facilities and libraries," said Delbridge. "Overall, it's a budget that I think does move us forward."

He did note he thinks there will be some jobs lost with pools closures.

"That does raise some concerns for us."

The public service would also be asked to report back in the fall of 2027 to provide a multi-year review of the Kinsmen Sherbrook Pool. The city is looking for information on usage, yearly revenue and operating costs for the pool. 

Tree Canopy

Over the four-year budget, the city is looking to grow the urban forestry budget by 45 per cent. This increase will help the city reach its pruning goals quicker and more funding will be focused in 2026 and 2027 to support a faster planting strategy.

"This approach helps us get better results for Winnipeg, while balancing costs and revenues," said Browaty.

Libraries

A new library is being planned for the northwest section of the city and funding from the budget would also create similar operating hours for the libraries throughout Winnipeg and enhanced library security.

Other budget spending

The city is planning to increase the snow clearing budget over the next four years by around 40 per cent. The reason for the projected increase is to have the proper budget in place from the get-go as the city continuously goes over budget when snow is being cleared.

Over the four years, the city has proposed to spend $81.4 million on active transportation, with around $30 million of that going toward road and bike path safety.

Mark Cohoe, the executive director of Bike Winnipeg, said he is happy to see road safety being a focus in the budget, but notes more work is needed.

"We recognize that we're a long way from reaching what we need on the active transportation," said Cohoe. "That's one concern we do see in the budget certainly, is that some of the larger projects aren't necessarily showing that inclusion of improvements to walking and cycling."

He said he would like to see funding from multiple levels of government to help tackle some of the larger unfunded projects like a pedestrian bridge connection from Osborne Village to downtown or a connection corridor now that Arlington Bridge has been closed down.

Riverbank stabilization is also mentioned in the budget with the city hoping to spend $3 million a year on the work.

The Hotel Tax would go up by one percentage point to six per cent. That money will be used to help fund beautification projects and a chunk would be used for capital work at the convention centre.

The city is also putting another $500,000 into the green cart program. The money would be used for the first step and consulting support on the project in 2024.

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