Archived Winnipeg Labour Council Stories

City Budget Not as Open as It Should be

- Jenny Gerbasi, Councillor Fort Rouge-East Fort Garry

In politics you often hear a lot of talk about what your elected officials are hoping to do for our city. But the annual budget (if you can sort through the spin and rhetoric around it) can reveal what your City Council is really up to.

Each year City Council must approve two separate budgets. The Capital budget contains longer term construction projects including such things as work on roads, transit, city facilities and water and waste improvements. The Operating budget includes salaries, program costs and shorter term day to day expenses of running the city. In the operating budget decisions are also made about increasing user fees and cutting, freezing or raising property and business taxes.

The decisions made in these budgets will determine whether the city builds another freeway through our city or expedites expanding Rapid transit. It will determine whether massive cuts to city staff will take place and whether we are likely to see a reduction in library hours, less capacity to maintain our parks and how many and which streets will be repaired. In spite of concerns being raised every year about an overly speedy and closed door budget process, it appears that nothing is about to change any time soon with the current Mayor and Council.

The budget is developed by the Mayor and his appointed Executive Policy Committee (EPC) and city staff behind closed doors for months without any input from the public or non-EPC members of council. The draft budget is then revealled to everyone including the rest of council and the media all in the same day. There is usually a little less than three weeks from the time it is tabled until the final vote at a Special Council meeting.

There are formal meetings of committees that community groups and individuals can attend to make a presentation once the draft budget has been tabled but it is very difficult for people to have time to study the document, prepare a presentation and attend a daytime committee meeting in the short time frame allowed.

Furthermore, the meetings aren't advertised and, unless people happen to recieve my e-newsletter or the media takes an interest, most people won't even know the process is happening. Representatives of community groups need time to get their presentations approved by their boards which is pretty much impossible in the time frame given. Also, by the time these meetings take place, the budget has been essentially written and the only changes to it are likely to be minor tweaks from the squeakiest wheels or those who the powerful Mayor and EPC deign to listen to.

So you might ask, why do I bother to continue to inform you about this terribly flawed budget process? Well like Don Quixote joisting at windmills, I am determined to treat the budget process as the the serious and vital task that it is. Also, as democraticly elected officials, we have a responsibility to try to be straightforward and clear about the direction that your City Council is taking our City.


What Happens Next?

The Capital budget schedule has been set out and will be voted on in mid-December. The dates for the Operating budget have not been announced but my guess is that it will occur in February or March. Below is the proposed schedule for the Capital budget process. As usual, if you wish to attend any meetings as a delegation you should contact or call 311.

A special meeting of the Executive Policy Committee has been called for Monday, November 16, at 1:45 p.m. in the West Committee Room to table the Preliminary 2010 Capital Budget and the 2011 to 2015 Five Year Capital Forecast. The Standing Policy Committees are to review the preliminary capital budget/forecast at their regular meetings as follows:

- Monday, November 30, 9:00 a.m. - Standing Policy Committee on Protection and Community Services

- Tuesday, December 1, 9:00 a.m. - Standing Policy Committee on Infrastructure Renewal and Public Works

- Thursday, December 3, 10:00 a.m. - Standing Policy Committee on Property and Development

Also be advised that a special meeting of the Executive Policy Committee has been called for Tuesday, December 8, at 9:00 a.m. in the West Committee Room to hear delegations on the Preliminary 2010 Capital Budget and the 2011 to 2015 Five Year Capital Forecast. The Executive Policy Committee is to make its recommendation to Council on the preliminary capital budget/forecast at its regular meeting on Wednesday, December 9. Consideration by City Council is planned for Tuesday, December 15, 9:30 a.m.


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