City Multi-Year Budget Speech – 2024

Today (March 20, 2024) we are passing the City’s four year budget. I will be providing a detailed update of key initiatives occurring in the Waverley West ward early next week. Councillors have the option to speak to the budget – this was my 8 minute speech!

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Firstly

I want to thank the Mayor for continuing to work on improving the ‘budget process’. For sure there were improvements over the past years, and I know we all identified areas that we could still improve on.

  • This is the first time in the last 10 years – maybe longer – that there has been representation from Old Kildonan, Mynarski and Charleswood wards actually on the budget working group.
  • I think that was a very significant and positive change  –  and I am very very appreciative of the input from other parts of the city, and the perspectives that were brought to the table.

The budget working group is going to have a de-brief on the process – with the goal of continuing to make each year better.  Overall, the process to make a four year budget balance – was really grueling – many many long meetings – too many bags of cheezies – and always never enough money.  Having a strategic plan as a guiding document also proved to be very beneficial for both city staff and the budget working group. The strategic plan will continue to play a critical role in ensuring accountability – accountability for Councillors and for the public service going forward.

I also appreciate the time in between tabling and ending up here today – I think this has been one of the longest periods of time  – to allow the public and Councillors the opportunity to seek clarification and have discussions on capital and operating.  I’d like to thank the public for the many many presentations that were made, and the emails that were sent to my office.  The perspectives, suggestions and all input is very much appreciated.

  • In the years prior to being elected, I came down to that very podium, at least 50 times, making the case – supporting – opposing – it’s really really important work

I know I made a difference on that side of the room – and I want to ensure that people who came in delegation – know they too are making a difference in our City. It may not be immediate – but your voices are heard.  I’d also like to thank the City financial team – they were outstanding in providing answers to the many hundreds of questions – and in providing advice. It is a loss to the City to see two financial leaders retiring – but I thank them for holding off till this four-year budget was completed.

Now – for what’s in the budget:

  • Many will list specific projects – and there are many very good initiatives

Very briefly:

  • we are moving forward on outstanding improvements on transit – a new payment system, high frequency infrastructure
  • roads – while we now are not receiving large dollars from the Federal gov’t or Provincial gov’t – we continue to invest in our roads
  • active transportation – really solid investments
  • significant investments on the road safety strategy and infrastructure to support it – BUT

My comments are going to be on the VERY big picture – because – in addition to the budget process being very grueling, I found it to be extremely depressing because of the limited revenue opportunities we have as a city.  The decision to keep the property tax increase to 3.5%  was made to ensure a level of affordability for the coming year. We’ve seen many cities across Canada – and in Manitoba increase taxes much higher. For this year, I think it was a wise decision.

Will it stay at 3.5% for the coming years? That is what the budget is built around – and while there were incredibly hard decisions to be made to stay within that rate – we know there are huge financial challenges on the horizon – and we may have to reconsider the 3.5% rate.

  • Which leads me to the real crux of the matter for Winnipeg – and actually for all cities across Canada

Winnipeg’s infrastructure is aging and is under significant pressure.  Winnipeg is 150 years old – community centres, roads, bridges, membranes, and more are aging and this spring has been horrendous with our roads.

Municipal governments in Canada rely primarily on three fiscal tools as a source of funding – Cities, Winnipeg included  – relies on :

  • property taxes,
  • user fees and
  • federal and provincial transfers

It is estimated for EVERY tax dollar a resident pays :

~ 10  cents  goes to the City

~ 40 cents goes to the Province

~ 50 cents goes to the Federal government

If this sounds like a speech supporting the Federation of Canadian Municipalities’ efforts or Chris Lorenc’s never ending speeches to us – I guess it is.

Municipalities manage and maintain approximately 60% of the public infrastructure and amenities that drive our economy and quality of life. But the reality is we are constantly doing more with less, and unsustainable fiscal tools  – like taxes, and user fees – make it hard to plan for the longer term.

  • We can only raise taxes so much before life becomes unaffordable
  • We  can only increase user fees so much
  • Cities do not have the final say in the amount of transfer funding the provincial and federal governments decide to transfer from their taxation revenues

Receiving only 10 cents on every tax dollar, local governments – WE – face huge challenges in maintaining current infrastructure — and not to mention supporting growing needs.  While it is always wonderful when Provincial or Federal governments help fund NEW infrastructure, for decades to come there is the ongoing cost of maintaining that infrastructure which cities must bear.

To be frank  – it frustrates me when I receive emails saying  – you don’t invest enough in roads or pipes – or poop plants – I know the ‘big picture’ is not always what folks want to hear – or learn about.

Property taxes, which account for 38% of Winnipeg’s revenues, can’t be dramatically raised year after year given the challenges many households face with inflation wages and increased costs in a range of other areas such as transportation, energy, food and childcare.

  • Moreover, post Covid – commercial and business tax revenues are starting to decrease as more people work from home vs in the office, and more retail is going online vs retail commercial space – resulting in less tax revenue for cities
  • User fees and licenses for goods and services account for 35% of Winnipeg’s revenues. There is a limit  – in a struggling economy as to how much cities can raise these fees and licenses

All of these points are meant to highlight, Winnipeg is a city with old infrastructure; old sewer and water pipes, old roads, and very very limited revenue generating opportunities.

Yes, City Council does make decisions on how to invest the tax dollars we have – and to be frank, we all know we aim to stretch investments as far as possible.

So, in closing, what is the solution to enabling us more robust revenue sources to run a city  ?

We must focus on every possible economic development opportunity we have

  • Winnipeg’s Centre Port site – as earlier noted by another speaker  – needs to be developed asap.
  • We need to focus on our industrial sites
  • We must continue to seek revenue generating partnerships

Each and every one of us – we must continue to have ongoing conversations with the Provincial and Federal governments  – to continue building even better partnerships to grow municipalities, provinces and Canada – and to support the efforts of FCM and AMM – and the big city mayors.  I will be voting for the four year budget as it stands today.