Reports to the City of Winnipeg’s finance committee are as gloomy as a fall day can get and have become cloudier for the heads of its two emergency services.
The effect of the health crisis caused by the pandemic continued to eat into the city’s income, while spending in some departments swelled and put more pressure on its results.
The finance committee passed a motion on Friday telling leaders of Winnipeg’s fire and police services to go back and look for more savings.
The directive was met with frustration by Winnipeg Police Service (WPS) Chief Danny Smyth and a more diplomatic response from Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service (WFPS) Chief Christian Schmidt, but the two leaders told the committee that any other tinkering with their budgets would end with service cuts.
WFPS came in looking for $ 3.37 million mainly to cover unbudgeted overtime costs and the Winnipeg Police Department requested $ 7.288 million for officer pension fund deficits.
The requester was a member of the Council finance committee. Sherri Rollins (Fort Rouge East Fort Garry) who said she wanted both departments to re-examine before the city uses its already shrinking fiscal stabilization fund to fill in the gaps in both budgets.
“If I were to ask for options – one or two more – other than the Fiscal Stabilization Reserve, in a report, what would that look like?” Rollins asked Smyth.
Smyth responded quickly – “It would mean cuts to the adviser’s services.”
The exchange intensified when Rollins won a committee vote (Chairman Scott Gillingham voted against the motion) forcing the WPS to return in November with a few alternatives.
âIt’s just unrealistic,â Smyth said, his voice rising.
The committee also voted for WFPS to do a similar review of its budget before the next finance meeting and its leader echoed Smyth’s contention; the only thing to cut from the department’s budget was service.
Following the meeting, Smyth expressed frustration both because any change in service made by the WPS is monitored by the Winnipeg Police Commission and not by a committee of city council, and because of the timing of the request was made at the end of the year.
The police department was able to find $ 4.5 million in savings, mainly through overtime reductions and management of vacancies, but the gap left by the pension deficit was much larger.
“I think there’s a lot of politics here. I mean, you’ve seen it,” Smyth said, calling the motion “very irregular and very impractical.”
Schmidt told reporters it was up to politicians to oversee his department, but warned that demandâ¦ “will revolve around service and service reduction, so that’s what we’ll look into.”
Rollins then provided a statement to CBC News defending her motions, saying there was no cut she would vote for that would reduce safety, but “my residents sent me to the office to have real accountability and not write blank checks. looking for options. This is the same process I would use to review any service in town. “
Finance President Scott Gillingham voted for firefighters to come back with options, but against the motion forcing police to do the same.
âEven if the police come back and say we need to fire X number of officers, or do anything, we as a council do not have the authority to direct this service allocation. the police board to decide, âGillingham explained.
The city’s finances are sick from the pandemic
The city’s chief financial officer, Catherine Kloepfer, ticked off the bad news for the finance committee.
Public transit ridership, which is 57% below pre-pandemic levels, generated a shortfall of $ 58 million.
Parking revenues continue to lag behind, hitting $ 8.3 million below par. Recreation program revenues were down $ 4.8 million and license fee cash was down $ 3.6 million.
The cumulative effect of COVID-19 on the city’s budget has risen to $ 84.3 million and it has put additional pressure on its fiscal stabilization fund, which has shrunk significantly (despite help from the federal government) during the pandemic.
The city will dive deep into budget deliberations in November.
Gillingham has warned that it will be difficult to meet the demands to balance the books without some changes to the four-year budget plan.