I’m excited to be back! This month, for my second column with Smart Biz, I’d like to talk about the 2016 City Budget, which was approved on March 22.
The 2016 budget is balanced, makes record investments in infrastructure, and maintains and invests in key services Winnipeggers have said they need. This includes increased investments to both the Winnipeg Police Service and Fire Paramedic Service.
I believe this year’s budget reflects a disciplined and responsible approach considering we are managing a $7 billion infrastructure deficit, and have inherited a structural deficit following 14 years of property tax cuts and freezes.
The 2016 budget builds our city for the future, reflecting the fact we are a growing, thriving city. It also maintains and invests in key services Winnipeggers have told us through the budget consultation process that they need.
Winnipeggers remind me regularly they want their streets fixed. The budget reflects this priority.
It includes a modest property tax increase that is entirely dedicated to infrastructure including building and repairing local and regional streets and sidewalks, and investing in the future Southwest Rapid Transitway.
It also ensures Winnipeg homeowners continue to have the lowest residential municipal property taxes when compared to other large cities across Canada.
Total capital investment into local and regional streets increases to a record level of $105.2 million this year, almost $2 million more than last year and $21 million more than 2014 representing a 25 per cent increase over the last two years.
As well, the construction of the Southwest Rapid Transitway is a key, strategic infrastructure investment required to support a more modern public transit network that is essential for a modern, growing city.
While the 2016 budget reflects significant investments in infrastructure, this priority does not come at the expense of key services Winnipeggers have told us they need.
The budget increases funding for both the Winnipeg Police Service by 6.32% and the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service budget by 6.63%.
Combined, these two departments comprise 44.6% of the total tax supported budget in 2016 and do need to be carefully managed.
I have and I will continue to support increased investment in the Winnipeg Police Service, and support the Winnipeg Police Board’s strategic plan to transition toward funding increases starting in 2017 to 2019 that are tied to or less than the rate of inflation.
The 6.32% increase for the Winnipeg Police Service this year is three times the rate of inflation, and represents a $16.7 million increase on a proposed police budget of about $280 million. This increase exceeds the City’s $9.7 million obligation under collective bargaining agreements.
It also builds on successive year-over-year increases to the Winnipeg Police Service. Over the last ten years, the Winnipeg Police Service budget has increased 80%. Over that same period of time, the City of Winnipeg’s budget has increased 68%. As well, the police service’s share of the overall City budget has increased from 21% in 2006 to over 26% in the proposed 2016 budget.
The 2016 budget makes many other important investments. It fulfills the City’s $10 million commitment toward the construction of Freedom Road, an all-weather road for Shoal Lake First Nation #40, by contributing a further $6 million toward the design and construction of the required bridges. The City of Winnipeg has been committed to Freedom Road from the beginning. I continue to support the project, and will work with Shoal Lake 40 First Nation and other levels of government to move it forward.
The 2016 budget identifies administrative efficiencies and tax supported savings that are invested into the renewal of regional streets. This year, the budget identifies $11.1 million in administrative efficiencies and tax supported savings that are invested directly into the Regional Streets Renewal Program. It also embeds the $1 million Innovation Capital Fund annually to facilitate investment in new and innovative ideas to improve efficiency, service delivery and responsiveness in city operations.
We continue to chip away at a structural deficit that we inherited following many years of property tax freezes. But we still have work to do.
While the 2016 budget is balanced, it does forecast a $51.7 million deficit in 2017 and an $81.9 million deficit in 2018.
Although the 2016 budget forecasts a challenging fiscal position in future years, we managed to reduce the deficit projected in 2017 by over 50 per cent from $115.2 million to $51.7 million.
Moving forward, we need to continue examining responsible and reasonable ways to address the structural deficit while we continue to work with other municipalities to obtain a fair share and a fair say in how provincial infrastructure dollars are invested in our communities.
As we continue this work, the 2016 City budget puts us on a disciplined and responsible track that builds our City for the future and invests in key services you’ve told us you need.