It’s the start of a new year, which is always exciting. I hope everyone enjoyed a wonderful holiday season with loved ones!
A new year means a new budget, and preparing a city budget is no easy task. It requires difficult decisions and difficult choices, and I am pleased Council has voted on and passed the 2017 budget.
I believe this year’s budgets present a balanced, fiscally prudent plan, limiting budgeted expenditure increases to the lowest level in 10 years, while maintaining and investing in key infrastructure and services important to Winnipeggers.
The budgets reflect the reality that Winnipeg’s population is on track to grow steadily and strongly over the next twenty-five years. We need to manage and support this growth by investing in the right infrastructure at the right time, so that critical infrastructure is in place when we need it.
There is no rate increase to the frontage levy this year, and zero rate increase to the water and sewer dividend. There are also no new fees or charges, and the Impact Fee approved by Council is not used as a funding source for any operational or capital program in 2017.
Winnipeg continues to have amongst the lowest property taxes in Canada and this budget takes steps to maintain our competitive ranking in this regard. Property tax increases this year are limited to 2.33 per cent, and the entire increase is dedicated to addressing Winnipeg’s infrastructure requirements.
Investment in roads remains a top priority for our citizens and the 2017 budget reflects this priority. Despite some rhetoric out there that wanted this year’s roads budget to be cut by $5 million, the 2017 budget maintains record investments in road renewal at $105.2 million.
To continue powering the economy and reducing the burden on small businesses, the business tax rate is again reduced this year. Since this Council took office two years ago, we have reduced the Business Tax rate from 5.7 per cent to 5.25 per cent.
We’ve invested a total of $288 million in the Police Service, which reflects an increase of approximately $3.6 million from last year’s budget. This increase is in-line with the rate of inflation and consistent with the target stated in the Winnipeg Police Board Strategic Plan. And we’ve invested over $199 million in the Fire and Paramedic Service – an increase of 4 per cent from 2016.
A modern, well-functioning public transit system is critical for a growing, thriving city. Construction of the next phase of the Southwest Rapid Transitway continues, and we are pleased the public private partnership for this project has helped identify efficiencies and costs savings that have reduced the overall cost significantly.
This budget will also extend transit routes in the fall of 2017 to support growing and expanding areas of the city in Amber Trails as well as Bridgwater Forest and South Pointe.
The 2017 budgets invest a total of $13.5 million in various active transportation facilities, an increase of $4.9 million from last year. This includes new buffered bike lanes, bicycle corridors, protected bike lanes, trails, and sidewalks.
We continue to face an immense challenge to address a projected infrastructure deficit of $7.4 billion, about half of which is required to upgrade existing infrastructure and the other half required to invest in new infrastructure to support a growing city.
Nevertheless, the 2017 budgets invest in projects across our city. From a new recreational centre in south Winnipeg, to library and walking trail improvements in Transcona, to a new bus route for the Maples, to future enhancements to Kilcona Park in North Kildonan, this budget is building a better, stronger Winnipeg overall.
At the mid-point of this Council’s mandate, I believe City Hall is on a better track today than it was two years ago. We have made significant progress toward making City Hall more open and transparent, more accessible and responsive, and we have strengthened our sense of pride in our city. The 2017 budgets continue the momentum and progress made over the last two years.
Managing the infrastructure needs of a growing city while ensuring fiscal prudence and balance requires difficult decisions, and strong leadership that transcends ward boundaries in the interest of building Winnipeg for the future, a Winnipeg we can all be proud of.
Looking forward, we will need to continue with a disciplined and responsible approach to investing scarce taxpayer dollars.
We can achieve this by working closely with the federal government to maximize Winnipeg’s share of infrastructure funding, and maintaining a strong partnership with the province.
Without a doubt, we are better and stronger together.