Please click here for our full final budget submission to the Executive Policy Committee (EPC) on the 18th and Council on the 19th. It is an updated version of our most recent posting Winnipeg: More than pipes, parks and pavement in light of the lesson that COVID-19 is teaching us once again. People experiencing poverty or just struggling to stay ahead of it do not have the necessary resources to deal with any sort of additional hardship.
EPC tabled the final budget recommendations on March 19th. Given our structure at City Hall, the strong mayor model, EPC membership plus two, which also made up the budget committee, the budget was really finalized yesterday. If you want to watch the full Council on the budget, you can here.
While it is good news that the U-Pass will continue, it never should have been on the chopping block. It was a highly successful program that met and exceeded expectations. In that light, it is a small victory to get it back but that should in no way take away from the incredible community and student organizing around it.
Allowing children 12 and under to ride for free is an important gain. It will not come in until 2021 though and what some insist on calling an adult low-income bus pass is really only a discounted one. 30% =$70, then 40%=$60 and a final 50% discount in year three will still mean an adult pass will cost more than $50 a month. The youth (13-17) pass is not included in the discount.
Another small gain is an additional $140,000 for Trees Please to coordinate Mayor Bowman’s Million Tree Challenge. However, that is far short of the additional $5+million/year the city’s arborist identified needing to save our existing canopy. As a community-led development organization, we encourage civic participation whenever possible but Mayor Bowman’s initiative relies too heavily on voluntary efforts. Unless this changes, our canopy will disappear without real commitment and our city will suffer environmentally and economically as a result.
It seems as if some of the Leisure Guide programming will be put back. As yet unanswered is if subsidies for low-income families will still be intact, as well as a return of support to library services and infrastructure. Given that the city has a library strategy that the preliminary budget seemed to be straying from, these cuts also should never have been considered.
There was absolutely no movement on the cuts to the community grants programs. The argument that a fixed cut for the next four years somehow adds stabilization to an organization is nonsensical. A cut is a cut. It will need to be made up either in reduced service or finding additional resources elsewhere. This could then mean a cut to another organization as the funding pool gets smaller and smaller. In that pool, a cut can create a ripple effect or even a whirlpool that might finally drag an organization under.
We proposed and demonstrated how a tax rebate system would both look out for those who can afford less and increase revenues for the City. The need to adhere to a 2018 election promise was prioritized over meeting 2020 to 2024 emerging needs. Likewise, continued cuts to the business tax and impact fees will remain, also limiting needed revenue.
Interesting to note, though, in the Council meeting just after the budget passed, Councilor Maes did ask the finance chair, Councilor Gillingham, to explore if there were any Charter restrictions on a tax rebate system. We aren’t aware of any so will be watching this closely.
Mayor and Council had choices. Their budget reflects those. They could even have chosen to delay the budget until the effects of COVID-19 were known. Instead, without any information on how deficits and surpluses will be handled, what if any process will be in place to re-evaluate the forecasted years, we are locked in. Given COVID-19, with so many in quarantine and more to come until we get ahead of it, that feels especially stifling.