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Mayor Brian Bowman speaks as the city releases its preliminary budget. (Source: Danton Unger/ CTV News)

The city’s new budget is holding the line on property tax hikes, spending millions on road projects, cutting library hours and the leisure guide in half, but promising the long-awaited fire hall in Waverley West.

On Friday, the Executive Policy Committee tabled the preliminary budget for the next four years in Winnipeg. It boasts a total reduction of $118 million in operating expenses from 2020 to 2023.

Here's the City's Preliminary 2020-2023 Multi-Year Balanced Budgets at a glance. #wpgbudget pic.twitter.com/1v9787BAdC

— Mayor Brian Bowman (@Mayor_Bowman) March 6, 2020

Winnipeg mayor Brian Bowman said he knows that some groups are not going to be happy with the cuts, but added the reductions have resulted in the first balanced budget for four consecutive years.

"Balancing multiple years is a bold and ambitious effort," said Bowman, adding later "the reality is we needed to make some difficult decisions."

Finance Chair Scott Gillingham said this budget tackles tomorrow's deficits by eliminating them today.

PROPERTY TAX CAPPED

Property taxes will be capped at a 2.33 per cent increase per year over the next four years - with two per cent being dedicated to rebuilding roads. The remaining 0.33 per cent will be dedicated to the Southwest Rapid Transitway. 

The city said the average homeowner will be paying an extra $41 per year in property taxes.

ROAD PROJECTS IN THE BUDGET

The city road projects have a budget of $130.3 million in local and regional road renewals for 2020. The city said this is the highest annual investment in Winnipeg’s history.

The city said there will be an annual investment of $141 million over the next six years.

"We saw some important investments still being made in core infrastructure roads and bridges, as well as some common sense investments," said Jonathan Alward, of the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses.

READ MORE: Why a Winnipeg city councillor is worried fewer roads will get fixed this year

Among the notable projects outlined in the budget are the reconstruction and rehabilitation of Stafford Street from Taylor Avenue to Corydon Avenue (budgeted for $27.5 million over four years) and various parts of Erin Street, Wall Street and to Sargent Avenue (budgeted for $35.1 million over four years).

CUTS TO FULL-TIME POSITIONS, LIBRARY HOURS AND LEISURE GUIDES

Over the next four years, the city will be reducing its staff complement by an equivalent of 38 full-time positions. The city said these positions would be partially reflected in reduced library hours.

All libraries will now all be closed by 8 p.m. and will not be open on Sundays, including the Millennium Library.

The city will also be slashing the City of Winnipeg Leisure Guide by 50 per cent over the next four years, excluding swimming programming. 

This cut will begin in January 2021 and will avoid programming for children and communities with higher needs.

While the city is not proposing the closure of any city facilities, it will not re-open any that are closed currently. The city said the only facility closed is the Terry Sawchuk Arena.

NEW WAVERLEY WEST FIRE HALL

With the cuts comes the long-awaited promise of a new Waverley West fire paramedic hall. The hall is projected to cost $12.1 million, funded by $7 million from the impact fee reserve and $5.1 million from external debt.

Construction is expected to begin in 2023.

"I'd like to see it built sooner, but no – it’s good," said Waverley West Coun. Janice Lukes . "It's going to take some time, but it’s well worth it – it's absolutely needed."

Lukes said she is concerned that $7 million for new station is going to be funded from the impact fees. Currently developers and homebuilders are challenging the impact fee in court.

"We expect that we'll have time to hear from the courts in due course, and then make, if we need to, annual adjustments going forward," Bowman said. "But at this stage, it is hypothetical. We'll see what the courts ultimately say, but it is in the out years."

Lukes said if the city loses the legal battle, then they will have to find the $7 million from somewhere else, which will be difficult. She said regardless – the new station will be built.

The city is also committed to building a new station in Windsor Park by combining the current station 15 (Windsor Park) and station 9 (on Marion Street). This station is estimated to cost $13 million which would be funded through external debt.

This station will be built on the site of the current Windsor Park Station, and is expected to begin construction in 2022.

PLANS FOR TRANSIT

The budget includes a $13 million increase to Transit over the next four years for the new “spine and feeder system”, and promises 10 new positions.

But with the investments, comes cuts to services. Finance Chair Scott Gillingham said there will be a reduction of service on low volume routes.

The budget includes plans to phase out the U-Pass transit program for university students, as well as ending the Downtown Spirit bus.

In its place, children under the age of 12 will be able to ride Transit for free starting in 2021. Transit will also be following through on a low-income pass.

OTHER HIGHLIGHTS 

  • 10 per cent cut to Community Grants
  • $1 Million for 24/7 safe spaces
  • • $1.3 million for Transit Plus in 2021, eliminating a rule that requires the origin and destination of a trip to be within 500 metres of an established bus route.
  • A plan to initiate the sale of John Blumberg Golf Course
  • Repurpose up to 30 per cent of all city-owned golf lands
  • Reduce number of wading pools, and reinvest savings in splash pads

City Council will be voting on the preliminary budget at the end of March.