Thoughts about "core" City Services

April 2019

 

 As part of the upcoming City multi-year budget we are to consider what the “core services” are for civic government. I am interested in hearing thoughts on this.

Most of our random surveys indicate a “big 11” of priorities - these all seem core to me. That is: roads (lanes, sidewalks); fire; police; ambulance; water/sewer; snow; garbage/recycle; libraries, community centres; parks and transit. These are not in any rank order. I will include AT paths under sidewalks, though our surveys don’t always do that. What’s left?

Street lighting is core (and I want to research more on this). Then what? Most people fire back “golf is not core”....but then what? Some would say Arts Funding - but I don’t want to cut that. Pools, arenas? These seem important to me. Hard to cut out animal services, insect control or cemeteries.

I would like us to start compost pick up (an “evolution” in my thinking). Is that core - it is if we want less stuff going into landfill.

Two comments for today: this could easily degenerate into a call to privatize services, and I don’t support that. And some of the projects that make this job worthwhile are certainly not core. The mayor and Councillor Allard championed the Bruce Oake Recovery Centre (which I support), but that could easily be seen as “Heath care” and not city business (again, I supported this). And one of my proudest achievements is getting the inner city work study program going with U of Winnipeg, inner city and suburban students working together and studying the TRC Calls to Action. Not “core” in the traditional sense, but perhaps Reconciliation now should be seen as core.

The City of Winnipeg gives out about $42.9 million in grants each year, about 4% of our operating budget. Some critics suggest that the grants should be scrapped as they are not core services. The reality is more complex.

Firstly, we are locked into multi-year agreements for $22.6 M of this amount. This is largely Assiniboine Park, Jets (refund of entertainment tax) and Bombers (refund of entertainment tax).

Moving beyond that the big items we are unlikely to scrap are; community centres, general council of community centres, and Wpg Arts Council (total of $11.2 M). Add in Indigenous Youth Strategy at $1.25 M.

Leaves about $9m to work with. There are hundreds of grants under $1m / year. Scrapping these would disproportionately affect the downtown in my view as Downtown Biz, West Broadway and housing grants get large grants. Other areas of the City would also be hurt if we cut funds in hundreds of thousands to say Rossbrook House or St. Boniface Museum.

In my view, the grants can be used to advance progressive causes in a way that City admin cannot. I think of my efforts to get Save our Seine a grant or Mike Pagtakhan choking up talking about a youth boxing program. Mayor Bowman championed grants to combat homelessness.

In short - I like the grants! Are they all focused on core services? Hell, no. But they do imperfectly reflect the passions of duly elected officials trying to respond to their communities. If we had not been able to give U of W a grant the youthunited inner city program would never have happened. To me, it is for the most part money well spent
I had planned to write some comments about City golf services prior to yesterday, but media coverage of the Golf Services business plan makes these remarks even more timely.

As I stated before, when asked "what is not core" about current city services the most common answer appears to be "golf", though arts funding also scores pretty highly with some voters.

The City's golf services are provided in a hodge-podge fashion with tons of history, typical of many City services. There are courses owned and operated by the City (Kildonan, Windsor Park and Crescent Drive) (CUPE represented workforces) and courses leased out for shorter terms (Canoe Club) and longer term (e.g. St. Boniface, Wildewood). Kilcona has yet another arrangement with CUPE workers doing some of the functions but not all.

There appear to be at least three positions: a) sell some or all of the land for infill housing, b) convert some of the courses to other recreational uses, c) keep golf as an option.

The Canoe Club public consultation brought out all of these factions. It was not a happy process - but the recommended resolution (shorten 2 holes to create a new soccer field adjacent to current Bonivital soccer site) seemed to get support from most of the St Vital community. All 48 acres were preserved as green space, but some groups were still angry that the course was not converted to a natural state.

Some things to remember in this debate: Some of the city courses lost money (not Kildonan), but while Windsor Park Golf Course loses about $150,000 per year, so does Maginot arena, so it’s not as if other city rec services all pay their way. Secondly, the city makes a little money on Canoe Club golf course, whereas converting to a park would require substantial subsidy from city operating funds, as there would be no revenue.

Selling off land would take a long time the way in which the City operates. It would also create huge opposition from area residents (at least this was the case at Canoe Club, and would likely be the case elsewhere). We likely have to look at each course on a case by case basis to see what might be the best balance.

Adding in a soccer field, using 2 of the Canoe Club's 48 acres, is projected to double the number of users of that 48 acre site. This is I think a good measure to have when considering options.

 

So while golf may not be a core service, green space is a core priority for most people.