Recovering from the impacts of COVID-19 is a top priority for everyone in Winnipeg. Our municipal government must lead with a real commitment to a renewed and strengthened partnership with all communities throughout the city. The amount of funding from federal and provincial levels of government has been greater than we’ve experienced in years. But are the investments reflected equally across the city and do they answer concerns residents have shared? Unfortunately, I don’t believe they do.
COVID-19 has impacted every corner of our city. Families are struggling in many areas of our city. They are concerned for what the future holds. They are looking for leadership. Small and medium sized local businesses are suffering. Thank you for supporting my Small Business COVID Relief Motion in your budget. This is an example of how we can work together as one council in the best interests of residents and fight the adverse effects of COVID-19 together.
There are some positives in this proposal that I commend:
• Financial support for small and medium sized businesses.
• Increased road renewal work.
• Construction of a new North End Community Based Police Station.
• The provision of approximately $150,000 to each ward from the Provincial $50 million grant for three years.
And there are some concerns:
• The Hotel industry identified financial issues that are not addressed. How was the projected accommodation tax revenue determined? Have we considered the long-term impact on future tax revenues?
• We are adding management positions at a time when we have staff laid-off. There were no objectives provided to review or salary details.
• Residents will pay more each year for water and sewer for the duration of this plan.
• The Vacancy Management line (a slush fund) is growing in departments that have no historical requirement for such an accounting practice. What’s the rationale behind that addition?
• The city is negotiating the WFPS contract and soon will begin the WPS CBA. I found no reference to potential wage or benefit increases or details on new costs associated with the CBA’s up for renewal.
Residents are telling me they’re not being heard in this tabled budget. I receive calls and emails regularly from residents who have become victimized by crime. Residents have called police to learn nobody is coming. I have been made aware of several neighbourhoods across our city reporting increases in crime. Violent crime is up in 2020, and this budget provides no comfort to residents who are afraid.
To be clear, I reached out to our CFO Mr. Olafson and Finance Chair, Councillor Gillingham via email on Monday November 23, 2020 at 10:38 am. I requested a meeting to review the budget once it was provided to the public, media and non-EPC councillors. I explained the time would allow us to review the budget and ensure I was aware of funds allocated to Charleswood-Tuxedo-Westwood, which is my responsibility. I had questions about allocations made city wide and reasoning behind some expenses. I was doing my due diligence to be supportive of the efforts made. To date I have not received a response to that request.
It is difficult and sometimes next to impossible for any Councillor to fulfill their duties and responsibilities when information is withheld, reasoning is not provided, and the administration is elusive.
I consider the budget tabled before us to be unfinished. It doesn’t address identified risks, there are unanswered questions, and unquantified data. All of which requires further attention.
I remain committed to working with my council colleagues and the Mayor, to prepare a budget that; provides clear reasoning for spending, includes the actual input of all of councillors equally and provides a representative vision of all Winnipeggers. Winnipeg deserves a well-functioning and trustworthy municipal government. We can only achieve that goal together.
Kevin Klein is the city councillor for Charleswood-Tuxedo-Westwood.