City releases proposed budget

The City of Winnipeg released its 2013 capital and operating budget plans during the week of Jan. 7 and, in doing so, unveiled an abrupt series of cuts to charities and nonprofits that have taken many by surprise.

Included in the cuts is a 10 per cent decrease in funding provided to Winnipeg museums. The Manitoba Children’s Museum, one of many affected, now expects to miss out on $21,000 worth of grant money.

Officials involved with several city museums recently expressed feelings of being blindsided by the city’s decision to the Winnipeg Free Press.

“We didn’t get so much as [the] courtesy of a heads-up this was coming,” said Jean-Paul Gobeil, board chairman of the St. Boniface Museum.

Diane Doth, executive director of the Children’s Museum, expressed a similar sentiment.

“I couldn’t believe it. I honestly thought it was not real.”

Also affected by the decrease in funding to nonprofits were organizations such as Winnipeg Harvest and the United Way. These organizations were subjected to a 10 per cent decline in funding. The city is reportedly set to save a total of $358,000 on nonprofits.

Dr. Karine Levasseur, an assistant professor in the University of Manitoba’s political studies department, recently spoke with the Manitoban about city hall’s 10 per cent cut to several nonprofit and charitable organizations.

“The concern here is that these funding cuts lack coherence. The City of Winnipeg indicated that it spared services offered by nonprofits and charities in the inner city, but this was followed by a cut to Winnipeg Harvest and the Poverty Reduction Strategy. How do we reconcile a cut to Winnipeg Harvest with the City’s desire to protect inner city services?” asked Levasseur.

Levasseur also remarked that the budget might prove detrimental to Winnipeg’s ability to attract tourists.

“The City has been working to make Winnipeg a tourist destination especially with the emphasis on a new airport, the Museum of Human Rights, and other developments. Cuts to museums seem at odds with this desire to make Winnipeg a top tourist destination.”

Although the city is set to save money on funding nonprofits and charities, the 2013 budget also calls for a 3.87 per cent rise in property taxes. One per cent of the revenue brought in by the tax hike will be allocated towards improving the infrastructure of the city.

“The Executive Policy Committee tabled a budget that strikes a balance between our commitment to spend taxpayer dollars wisely and the need to make solid investments in our local infrastructure. For the first time ever, we are dedicating a fund for the renewal of local streets, back lanes and sidewalks,” reads a statement of the city’s official website.

This marks the second year in a row that the city has called for a rise in property taxes.

Also called for in the budget is an increase in city councillors’ discretionary ward budget by $40,000. Multiple city councillors, including Jenny Gerbasi (Fort Rouge), Justin Swandel (St. Norbert), and John Orlikow (River Heights), have publicly opposed this move, insisting that the money can be put to better use elsewhere.

Since the tabling of the budget at City Hall two weeks ago, Mayor Sam Katz and the Executive Policy Committee (EPC) have also faced some opposition from Winnipeg residents who would like to see the budget amended.

A petition is up on the Children’s Museum website to encourage city council to reject the proposed cuts to museum funding. Furthermore, the Free Press reports that on Jan. 17, approximately 30 different groups of citizens met with the EPC to criticize the proposed budget.

Levasseur explained that this kind of lobbying has the potential to change the proposed budget plan, which city councillors will soon vote on.

“I certainly think that it can be effective – if enough people reach out to their city councillor and express their concerns, I think it could be enough to turn the tide.”

“Furthermore,” elaborated Levasseur, “it is important to recognize that Winnipeg has had a long love affair with nonprofits and charities [ . . . ] The City of Winnipeg needs to stop such an ad hoc approach to funding. Instead, it should restore funding in the interim until it can build a meaningful partnership with the nonprofit and charitable sector in Winnipeg to define policy.”

Levasseur acknowledges that, while the budget certainly contains some disappointments, there is one very positive and important aspect that the City has introduced this year – a sum of money set aside to hire policy analysts.

This is a worthwhile investment for Winnipeg, according to Levasseur, because the city lost many of its policy analyst staff during recent reorganizations, which resulted in a diminished ability to optimally allocate resources in response to an ever-changing set of political challenges.

“In short, the City of Winnipeg is sorely lacking in policy capacity. As an assistant professor who teaches in the master of public administration program and trains the next generation of policy analysts, I am pleased to see the City is committed to taking the first step to rebuild some of its policy capacity.”

City Council will vote on the proposed budget on Tuesday, Jan. 29.