WINNIPEG, MB - We're into the start of a new year, which is always an exciting time. A new year means a new budget, and preparing a city budget is no easy task. It requires difficult decisions and difficult choices, and I am pleased that in December Council voted on and passed the 2018 City of Winnipeg budget.
Demands on this year's budget were incredibly high again, and we encountered significant revenue challenges during the last year. At the same time, the city continues to be squeezed by increasing infrastructure demands that come with being a growing city while grappling with the need to rebuild and repair many city assets that fell into disrepair following years of neglect.
At the start of the 2018 budget process, the city was facing an $89 million deficit in the tax-supported operating budget. Over the course of the last year, a lot of input from citizens and collaborative work with stakeholder groups, Councillors, and the public service resulted in a budget that is balanced without any draw on the financial stabilization reserve.
I believe the 2018 budget strikes the right balance between responding to the fiscal challenges of today while continuing to invest in key services and infrastructure that will build and prepare Winnipeg for strong and steady population growth projected into the future. It also reflects the lowest level of expenditure growth in decades.
There are no new fees in the 2018 budget, the frontage levy is not increased, and the water and sewer dividend rate remains unchanged. And every cent of this year's two percent property tax increase is dedicated to meeting the city's infrastructure needs.
The 2018 budget responds to one of the top priorities of Winnipeggers - fixing the roads! This year, $116 million is committed to road renewal, the highest annual level of investment in road renewal in Winnipeg's history! Fixing our roads continues to be a top priority for many of you, and this level of investment reflects how much of a priority this is for residents across our city.
To continue powering the economy and reduce the burden on small businesses, the 2018 budget reduces the business tax from 5.25 percent to 5.14 percent. Since this Council took office in 2014, we have reduced the business tax rate from 5.7 percent to 5.14 percent representing a 9.8% decrease since 2014.
Collective agreements negotiated and ratified throughout the last year between the city and its major unions contributed significantly in managing the overall level of expenditure growth in 2018, totaling almost $21 million annually in 2018. I want to thank all of our valued city employees for their efforts in helping negotiate agreements that are not only fair to employees, but also more affordable to taxpayers and ultimately more sustainable over the long term.
The 2018 budget provides a total investment of $17.3 million in new active transportation infrastructure, a record level of investment representing an increase of $4.1 million or 31% from $13.2 million in 2017. Investing in active transportation not only supports active healthy lifestyles, it is also essential to supporting a modern, growing city like Winnipeg.
A growing city like Winnipeg needs an efficient, well-functioning, and safe transit service. The 2018 budget invests over $28 million to purchase 40 new transit buses to continue to modernize and renew the bus fleet. It also recommends that a long-term strategic plan be undertaken in response to declining ridership and the new fiscal reality the city faces following an end earlier this year to the long-standing city-provincial funding partnership.
The 2018 budget continues to invest in building Winnipeg's reputation and pride by bolstering the Special Events Marketing Fund as well as developing a multi-year downtown safety strategy through a more strategic distribution of the accommodation tax.
Moving into the final year of this Council's mandate, I believe City Hall is on a better track today than it was three years ago.
We have made significant progress toward making City Hall more open and transparent, more accessible and responsive, and we have strengthened our sense of pride in our city. Despite our current fiscal challenges, I believe the 2018 budget continues this momentum and continues to respond to the needs of a growing, thriving city.
By Mayor Brian Bowman