Deficit in Greenspace Maintenance is the “Canary in the Coal Mine”

In my opinion, the maintenance issues in Waverley West are the ‘canary in the coal mine’ for what is to come with respect to maintenance of greenspace in ALL new developments, including communities like Amber Trails and Sage Creek.

The BIG PICTURE is that the City is responsible to maintain the properties that we approve – and we should be allocating the maintenance costs in the approval process.  From what I can see at this point, the City has not aligned the maintenance costs appropriately in these new developments, and we must resolve this in BOTH existing developments and future developments.

My thanks to the Winnipeg Free Press for reporting on this evolving issue.


 

City landscaping in new suburbs ‘spectacularly hideous’

A city councillor is raising questions over where tax dollars allocated for green space maintenance are really being spent after city officials confirmed no funds have been budgeted for open spaces in the new Bridgwater suburbs.

Coun. Janice Lukes (South Winnipeg-St. Norbert) said parks officials confirmed the department has no plans or budget to maintain the public garden space in the north half of the Waverley West development – Bridgwater Forest, Bridgwater Trails, Bridgwater Lakes – and is unable to mow the open fields to the same standards as the rest of the city.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Coun. Janice Lukes says the city has no budget to maintain the parks and open spaces in the new Waverley West neighbourhoods. “People are paying for this and I don’t know where the money has gone,“>
MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS – Coun. Janice Lukes says the city has no budget to maintain the parks and open spaces in the new Waverley West neighbourhoods. “People are paying for this and I don’t know where the money has gone,” she said. 

Lukes said civic officials need to explain how they’re spending department dollars and why it’s not being spent in the new neighbourhoods.

“We can’t allow neighbourhoods to be designed and built like this and not be able to maintain it,” Lukes said. “We are billing people on their property taxes to take care of parks and green space. Where is that money going? I want to see how it’s being spent.”

Lukes described the flower garden in the roundabout that greets motorists into Bridgwater Forest as “spectacularly hideous,” and said the gardens along the pathways throughout that neighbourhood are in the same state of neglect.

Lukes estimated there are over 200 shrubbery beds in the Bridgwater neighbourhoods that the city isn’t maintaining. Grass mowing of open fields has also suffered, she said. Where the mowing rotation in older neighbourhoods is every 10-14 days, Lukes said parks officials said Bridgwater fields can go 14 days or longer between mowings.

It’s not just an issue restricted to the Bridgwater area, she said. “This is the canary in the coal mine on how the planning department allows this to happen,” in all new neighbourhoods, across the city. “It’s happening in Amber Trails, in Sage Creek. If we don’t change the way we’re doing things, we’re going to have a much bigger problems than the bushes in Waverley West.”

A civic spokeswoman confirmed the parks branch has no budget for shrub maintenance in the Bridgwater neighbourhoods but she added “we will be maintaining this area as time and resources permit as we do in other areas of the city.”

The spokeswoman said the city had to redeploy parks staff from other areas to do grass mowing in Waverley West, which resulted in “a lower mowing cycle throughout the entire area.”

Lukes said developers design and construct the new neighbourhoods according to plans approved by the planning department, in consultation with other civic departments like public works, community services and transit. Developers are required to maintain the public, open spaces for a limited number of years until the new neighbourhood is considered completed and then that land becomes the responsibility of the city. She said the open spaces in Waverley West, which was developed by the provincial government, are being turned over in phases to the city.

Jarrett Hannah, president of the Bridgwater Forest Neighbourhood Association, has lived in the community for four years. The association has been dealing with city hall with no success.

“It’s been extremely painful. It’s bureaucracy – nothing gets done,” Hannah said. “It’s talked about a lot, they made a lot of promises but nothing gets done.”

Lukes said it’s clear that civic planners have been approving new neighbourhoods without any thought to the financial cost maintaining the open spaces will have on the city budget and no one in senior administration appears to have given thought to the problem.

Lukes said she will meet with officials from several departments soon and expects an explanation for the lack of maintenance and a solution.

This issue is not part of the “who pays for growth” debate, she said, adding that a portion of every homeowners property tax bill is allocated to pay for parks and open space maintenance but it’s not happening in the Bridgwater neighbourhoods or other new suburbs.

“People have an expectation when they buy a home in a new suburb,” Lukes said. “People are paying for this and I don’t know where the money has gone.”

Hannah said he and his neighbours expect part of the money they pay in property taxes would be re-invested in their neighbourhood but they’ve seen very little evidence of that.

“If you live in an area and you pay property taxes, you have an expectation of basic services being tended to – your street cleaned, your boulevard grass mowed. That’s the expectation at the minimum,” Hannah said.

Lukes said she tried without success to resolve the issue last year and stayed quiet but with no resolution in sight, she said she’s not holding back any longer.

“I’ve had it. I’m bringing it out into the open. It’s the only way I can get things done by putting a spotlight on it.”

Lukes said blame can be spread across several civic departments: the planning department – which approved the suburbs; the parks branch – which is not maintaining the green space; and the finance department – which failed to project the associated costs of the new suburbs and appears to be ignoring the problem.

Lukes said a senior parks official put the blame on the expanding budget of the police service and the city’s spending splurge on capital projects but she rejected that defence. “I’m not buying that.”

aldo.santin@freepress.mb.ca

Read more by Aldo Santin.


 

Scant landscaping blamed on shortage of city workers

‘We don’t have the staff do to the work residents expect’

The head of the largest civic union says Janice Lukes and other councillors who supported the budget have only themselves to blame as the city is unable to provide sufficient services to the expanding suburbs.

CUPE 500 president Gord Delbridge said Lukes and a majority of councillors voted for a budget that includes finding $21 million in savings by delaying staff hirings, which he says is the real reason city hall is unable to provide park maintenance in the Bridgwater neighbourhoods.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>“The city is expanding and we don’t have the staff do to the work residents expect,“>
MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS – “The city is expanding and we don’t have the staff do to the work residents expect,” says CUPE 500 president Gord Delbridge. 

“All city services will be impacted when council tries to find budget savings by reducing the number of employees,” Delbridge said. “The city is expanding and we don’t have the staff do to the work residents expect.”

Vacancy Management

What Is It: The practice of delaying hiring replacement staff to find department budget savings.

Vacancy Management Targets

  • 2014: $14 million
  • 2015: $17.7 million
  • 2016: $20.9 million

2016 Civic Departments Affected

  • Community Services: $1.5 million, 25 full-time equivalent staff (FTE).
  • Planning, Property and Development: $1.9 million, 26 FTE.
  • Police: $6 million, 50 FTE.
  • Public Works: $2.8 million, 50 FTE.
  • Water and Waste: $5.6 million, 76 FTE.

 

Lukes (South Winnipeg-St. Norbert) went public with her concerns this week that the parks branch doesn’t have the budget or staff to maintain the public green spaces in the Bridgwater neighbourhoods. She described a flower garden as “spectacularly hideous,” said gardens along pathways are neglected and city staff doesn’t mow open fields as often as other areas of the city.

Lukes said the problem was the fault of the planning department, which authorized subdivision designs without anticipating the additional cost from the new public spaces, and the finance department, which she said should have been ringing alarm bells about the city’s money problems.

But Delbridge said the real problem is the majority on council trying to balance the budget by finding almost $21 million this year by delaying hirings, a practice known as vacancy management.

“They’re not putting the resources back into this expanding city,” Delbridge said. “Vacancy management is the culprit here.

“When (Lukes) votes in favour of a budget that does not include sufficient resources to maintain the service levels, she and the other councillors need to take ownership of the decisions that are putting us in this predicament.”

Delbridge was one of several individuals and councillors who, during the budget consultation period in March, expressed concerns that vacancy management would result in service cuts.

Successive city councils have relied on vacancy management to balance the budget. In 2014, council set a target of $14 million in savings; that increases to $17.7 million in 2015 and $20.9 million this year.

“Years of front-line services cuts and approving new developments without adequate development charges puts pressure on our budgets,” said Coun. Matt Allard, who spoke against using vacancy management and voted against the budget.

Delbridge said he’s hearing from his members that staff shortages are compounding the parks maintenance problems. While the city says it mows public spaces on a 10- to 14-day rotation, Delbridge said the staff shortage mean green spaces can only be mowed once every 20 days or even longer.

“The city is expanding yet council increases the savings it expects from vacancy management,” Delbridge said.

aldo.santin@freepress.mb.ca

 

Twitter link:  http://janicelukes.ca/?p=6058