Dear Winnipeg

A Fun Blog About Infrastructure and Municipal Finance

Waverley Wexit

“Whoa, this City budget process is a real dumpster fire!
Aw man! Now I’ll never finish my Sudoku…”

Dear Winnipeg,

Sigh.

I have to admit to you, I think I’m at a total loss to understand how you make your infrastructure decisions.

[At first, I thought I could spot a pattern, but now I’m thinking maybe it’s just random?]

Last week, you tell us we can’t afford all the pools, arenas, community centres and libraries we currently have.

We will have to close several of them, you tell us. There just isn’t enough money to keep all of them around.

These are unfortunately just some of the many “difficult decisions” we will have to make as part of this budget process, you say.

That sucks, we said.

Yes it does, you acknowledged.

Doh, we softly and dejectedly responded.

Sorry, you replied without a shred of regret.

Double sigh.

But now this.

Still as part of this year’s budgeting process, it turns out you’re now planning on applying for federal and provincial funding through the Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program, for 4 different projects.

One of these projects?

The South Winnipeg Recreation Campus, at a total cost of $71 million. With the City’s share of initial construction being $26.2 million, and almost all of it borrowed.

[Replacing it? Ha! That’s a future Council’s problem!]

Upon completion, the South Winnipeg Recreation Campus will contain a lap tank, a leisure pool, a fitness space, a walking/running track and gymnasium, a community library and community recreation program space that includes multiple gymnasiums and multi-purpose spaces, adjacent athletic fields and park space and even a twin arena!

And oh yeah, all this money is just for Phase 1.

In this report, the City lays out its justification for prioritizing this project:

… AND WHEREAS the Illicit Drug Task Force report released on June 28, 2019 called upon all governments to consider a wide range of possible actions to combat the impacts of illicit drug use, including prioritizing investments in recreation opportunities for youth in high need areas of the City; …

— EPC motion from July 9, 2019 giving justification for prioritizing the South Winnipeg Recreation Campus, emphasis mine.

Sorry, let me see if I got this straight: you’re going to close 5 pools, 3 libraries, 5 arenas, cut funding to all community centres, and cancel improvements to all athletic fields. Because we don’t have enough money.

But THEN, you’re going to turn around and build another community centre, complete with 2 pools, a library, athletic fields, multiple gymnasiums and an arena. Sorry, a double-arena!

[Do you decide by rolling dice maybe?]

I’m not trying to be a jerk here, but that has to be the most perverted reading of “prioritizing investments in recreation opportunities for youth in high need areas of the City” that I have ever seen.

Like, you’re going to close the Kinsmen Sherbrook Pool, in the inner-city neighbourhood of Spence. And then, you’re going to build, not one, but two brand new pools in the “high need” suburb of Waverley West.

[You know you’re not supposed to eat the leaves after the reading, right? Plus they’re supposed to be tea leaves…]

But Waverley West deserves it, you say. They just generate so much darn assessment base value for us, they should get all the amenities.

[Content warning: facts ahead, please buckle your cognitive biases!]

FACT: The Spence neighbourhood generates $77.16/sq ft of assessment base value.

FACT: The Kinsmen Sherbrook Pool also services the immediately adjacent neighbourhoods, which contribute the following to our assessment base (sourced from the City of Winnipeg Open Data Portal):

  • Daniel McIntyre $65.63/sq ft
  • St. Matthews $71.30/sq ft
  • West Broadway $95.88/sq ft
  • Colony $229.11/sq ft
  • Central Park $234.77/sq ft
  • Portage-Ellice $423.57/sq ft
  • South Portage $424.33/sq ft

FACT: On the other hand, Bridgwater Forest in Waverley West (the most profitable of all the Bridgwaters) generates a comparatively measly $52.28/sq ft of assessment base.

Remind me then, why are we doing this?

[I got it! It’s a Ouija board, right?]

The fact that I believe Waverley West should never have been built is beside the point. It’s built now. So Waverley Westers absolutely deserve services and amenities like all other Winnipeggers.

Fair is fair.

But so do Spence residents. And Westwood residents. And St.Boniface residents. And everyone else.

So if there’s no money for Spence, then logically that should mean there’s no money for Waverley West either.

Fair is fair.

I wrote to you last week wondering why the most obvious budget line item, the one seeing record levels of investment, is seemingly off-limits for cuts. Especially since there are SO MANY possible infrastructure investments with a higher ROI, such as transit, trees, AT, and yes, recreation.

But we should also talk about the other elephant in the room that is seemingly off-limits: tax increases.

[Content warning: more facts ahead. Please place both hands on either sides of your head to prevent it from exploding.]

FACT: We have the LOWEST average municipal property tax out of 12 major Canadian cities.

FACT: We have the LOWEST expenditures per capita, meaning we deliver services on a shoestring relative to other cities… in other words, with relatively very little waste.

FACT: Even a 10% property tax increase would cost the average Winnipegger a mere $15 per month, but would raise over $60 million per year in revenue for the City. That’s revenue that could keep arenas, pools, community centres and libraries open in our neighbourhoods.

The City claims we’re in this mess because of 14 years of consecutive tax freezes. You and I know better of course. But even if that was the cause of all this, wouldn’t that make a tax increase the obvious logical solution?

And, if our taxes are the lowest in the country, and we’re not wasting much money, and a decently large increase would be relatively invisible to most Winnipeggers, why is this option not on the table?

I mean, unless this budget process is just a dog-and-pony show to make us feel like we had input, when the real decisions have already all been made…

[Nah. I’m probably just imagining crazy conspiracy theories now.]

Except, am I?

Here’s the Community Services Capital Budget presentation from last week that Winnipeggers been asked to give input on:

This is what was presented to Winnipeggers as part of the new “transparent” budget process.

And then, after everyone’s chance to voice their opinion on the budget has passed, EPC is going to slip this new $71 million project into it. With no public input invited.

Real transparent-like.

[How’s that for crazy conspiracy theories?]

I mean, unless Waverley West is secretly planning on separating from the rest of the City? And taking all the infrastructure with them!

It would be sad to see them go, since the people of WW are lovely.

But on the bright side, it would go a long way in helping to solve our financial issues, ditching all that excess infrastructure.

Plus, maybe Sage Creek would think of going too?

[Kidding. Sort of.]

But seriously though, we can’t build this.

To me, it really looks like this was hidden from the budget process because it wouldn’t fly with the public to close facilities in older neighbourhoods, citing lack of money, all the while funding new ones in Waverley West to the tune of tens of millions of dollars, with almost all of it borrowed. All in the same budget.

In fact, this is so shady that when I tried to register to speak to this item at EPC’s meeting this coming Thursday, at first the City Clerks’ office wasn’t even sure if I was allowed to.

I know I usually keep things light around here. But this seems like a disgusting abuse of process, and it shows a complete disregard for the people of Winnipeg, many of whom have taken time off work, or have had to make various arrangements for child care, in order to participate in a budget process that they took to be in good faith.

Time to show some outrage.

#WaverleyWexit

Love,

Elmwood Guy