Public urged to keep a watch on lax spending habits at city hall

“It is imperative that we focus on finding efficiencies and realize savings opportunities.

Paula Havixbeck is Winnipeg city councillor representing Charleswood-Tuxedo.
Paula Havixbeck
Inside City Hall

The budget process is now underway. The expectation as the Nov. 29 date approached for tabling of the preliminary operating and capital budgets (2014-2016) was that another property tax increase was on the way. Given the mismanagement of some very significant files of late, including those dealing with the fire paramedic station and police headquarters construction projects, I will not support a property tax increase.

Everyone should speak up about the budget plan as this is a very important, guiding document for the city. I encourage you to attend a council meeting on the budget to offer your views.paula-meeting-dates

Early this year, I presented numerous motions on budget items, including one suggesting that rather than arbitrarily cutting payments to various arts and non-profit groups, a standardized criteria be established for making these grants. The decision last year to increase councillors’ ward allowances by $40,000, a 50 per cent rise, was outrageous, and I presented a motion through finance committee to have that increase rescinded in this year’s budget.

There has been no action on many items from last year’s budget; the Sherbrook pool is one. The engineers’ report, submitted to city officials in June, stated that some $2.7 million in immediate repairs to the closed structure is needed, along with major expenditures over the next couple of decades. To date nothing has come before council. When will we have a chance to give renovation work on this much-needed facility a go-ahead? When will it be repaired? These are questions I continue to ask.

Many people from all areas of the city have written me about the pool. It has historical attributes, it provides therapy for people with arthritis and other inflammatory health issues and it provides an opportunity for inner-city children to stay active after school. The cost of these things will never go down. So why is the project stalled?

Another item that remains outstanding is some form of resolution to the question of the downtown civic parkade. Every time a public hearing is held at city hall, I hear from people about how difficult parking is. You may recall the parkade was closed rather suddenly over a year ago on the recommendation of engineering consultants, who delivered findings of structural deficiencies in the building. To date, to my knowledge, the problems have still not been resolved.

I believe it is imperative that we focus on finding efficiencies and realizing the many opportunities for savings in city operations, while we strive to improve the service provided citizens. It’s imperative that we obtain value for the money we spend.

Citizens have a right to know how their hard-earned money is being spent. Working collaboratively, some of us tried – unsuccessfully – to have council adopt a motion to have the police headquarters construction project audited. Such action was voted down at council’s Nov. 20 meeting. However, it is important that citizens understand that there was a spending overrun here of nearly $80 million, or 54 per cent of the original price and counting, and we are entitled to know in detail how that occurred.

Some councillors argued there is a cost involved in having another project audited. We have seen, however, that significant errors and negligence were brought to light in the fire paramedic station review – errors and negligence such as contract splitting, mismanagement and departures from city policies. Finding $200,000 to learn why the police headquarters required an extra $80 million is essential. I will continue to ask my questions in the hope of learning what went wrong and prevent it from happening in the future.

I encourage you to write, call or attend a meeting relative to the budget and offer your views on these and other issues that are important to you.

Paula Havixbeck is Winnipeg city councillor representing Charleswood-Tuxedo.

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