A windfall from a cut to the provincial sales tax may restore Sunday hours at six Winnipeg libraries and soften cuts to the city’s leisure guide programming.
Mayor Brian Bowman’s executive policy committee passed several amendments to the city’s budget Thursday, including renewing the U-Pass transit pass for post-secondary students and providing $500,000 in funding over four years for Winnipeg’s public art strategy.
Councillors on EPC also voted to direct the city’s public service to find a third party willing to own or operate the Terry Sawchuk Arena. The budget had directed the facility be shut down.
The cash for reversing some of the cuts in the preliminary budget come in part from savings from a one per cent drop in the PST — giving the city an additional $3.3 million.
Mayor Brian Bowman tipped his hat to the provincial government for trimming the sales tax.
“There should be some credit [given] to our provincial partners,” Bowman told reporters following the EPC meeting Thursday.
As a result, six libraries could avoid being shuttered on Sundays, but a proposal to trim daily operating hours still remains in the budget.
Bowman defended his budget choices, saying a growing structural deficit on the city’s books had to end.
An amendment on the U-Pass program would require students pay an additional $40 per semester for the transit pass.
Post-secondary students, led by University of Manitoba Student Union president Jakob Sanderson, peppered EPC members during a 12-hour budget session on Wednesday, in an effort to keep the U-Pass program alive.
“We heard it loud and clear — they [students] were willing to pay more,” said finance chair Scott Gillingham.
EPC heard 12 hours of delegations on Wednesday, many calling for changes to the budget.
“They were effective…So for those that think the budget is cast in stone, we listened,” Bowman said.
In order to generate more savings to change the budget, EPC is proposing to move the office of sustainability from the city’s chief administrative office to the water and waste department.
The change would free up $1.5 million as funding from sewer and water rates would pay the cost of the sustainability office and no longer be supported by general revenues.
Coun. Scott Gillingham justified the move saying the sustainability office is mostly focused on projects within the water and waste department.
Several cuts to community groups and service organizations — as well as a reduction in funding for the Winnipeg Arts Council — remain in the proposed budget.
“I don’t expect everyone will be on board with the decisions we made,” Bowman acknowledged.
A schedule for the remaining council meetings has changed.
Council was set to vote on the budget Friday and hold it’s regular monthly meeting on Saturday. Now both will be held on Friday in effort not to open city hall on the weekend.
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