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'Some really ugly choices': Bowman says pandemic is costing Winnipeg millions
WINNIPEG -- On Monday, the prime minister announced that the federal government will be offering cities an advanced transfer of $2.2 billion in infrastructure money to help cover shortfalls in the budget due to COVID-19.
Winnipeg mayor Brian Bowman said all cities across the country have been working to weather the storm.
"(Winnipeg) can weather the storm financially until the end of August, but after, then we have to make some really ugly choices," said Bowman. "Right now we're burning $10 and $12 million every four weeks in non-recoverable losses due to COVID and so by the end of August we are looking at about $78 million."
He added that money will need to be replenished and he doesn't want to do so by doubling down on taxes for property owners.
The funding is going to be sent to cities through a federal Gas Tax Fund and will be made in one single payment. These types of funds are usually spread out over two annual payments.
Once cities get the money, it can go towards projects under 18 different categories and the city can choose how to spend it.
Bowman said the city has already budgeted for the money, but other discussions have to be had.
"The broader discussion has to be had with the other provinces and the federal government. You know, we are constrained by other levels of government in terms of what we can do. We have balanced budget legislation imposed on us by provincial governments, which I support. We have, in our case, a debt ceiling which helps us with our fiscal management, and we are also prohibited from borrowing for our operating budgets."
"What you are seeing played out right now is really something that mayors have been advocating for many, many years. Municipalities have been operating for decades with one hand tied behind their back, with antiquated financial and revenue generation tools and now we've got the other hand tied behind our backs during the pandemic."
He said there is a need to modernize how cities are funded so that economic recovery isn't stalled.
"In Winnipeg's case, when we have to replenish our fiscal stabilization reserve, to focus on property taxes is really not a smart way to collect taxes. A growth-oriented, economically driven funding model, like other levels of government have, is really one way in which we can come out of this recovery stronger than before."
Bowman added that it is important that other levels of government are there to support municipalities because the services cities provide are essential.
Bowman said come the fall, if there is no new money to help the city, some "brutal decisions" will have to be made by either reducing services or increasing the ask of property and business owners.