The 2017 civic draft budget was released on Nov. 22, and last Friday the Standing Committee on Protection, Community Services and Parks undertook a review of their department’s crunched numbers.
Like all city department budgets, this budget was developed by the Executive Policy Committee along with the Mayor through a year long process in consultation with bureaucrats.
New public consultation consisted of five neighbourhood sessions in October while some non-EPC councillors said their own consultation meetings took place around the same time.
Council will vote on the budget on Dec. 13.
I vowed to watch Friday’s entire standing committee meeting via live stream, since an interesting item (unlicensed and illegal rooming houses) was appearing near the end.
The meeting began at 9:30 a.m. and was slated, according to information checked by the 311 operator, to finish at 12:30 pm.
The process consisted of bureaucrats presenting information while councillors picked through these submissions and held discussion. Many questions were posed to the administrators who in turn explained rationale and budget numbers.
The meeting also handled some appeals in the morning, dealt with some other business and made motions and directives at the end.
To the common live stream viewer (me) – the budget was not easy to get a handle on. Councillors seemed to struggle at times to understand the presentations.
Sometimes the information required a great deal of questioning; at other times things seemed tense. Some budget items were critiqued as if councillors had never before been apprised of them.
The meeting went on well past lunch time and finished at 9:55 p.m. – a marathon 12 hours in length.
It made me wonder: why are committee members left struggling at the 11th hour to get a grasp on their department’s budget numbers, anyway?
This is what it looked like to me. Watch the video of the meeting and see for yourself:
Eadie, Wyatt say No to Budget Pass
Although Ross Eadie (Mynarski Ward) was impressed with the Fire Paramedic Services budget, he said he had a problem with passing both capital and operations budgets for Community Services as well as Parks.
Eadie stated he was also not impressed with what he called Community Services’s “push” to remove library services from where they have served people for 50 years. “We needed to do more and it’s just not there,” said Eadie.
Russ Wyatt (Transcona Ward) also declined to give the budget a pass.
“There is a pattern emerging in terms of capital budgets in department after department or division after division, where monies were stated previously and capital programs were pushed out of 2017 or reduced or they went completely out of 2017 or put into 2018, or went went back further,” said Wyatt.
He said it reflects an intent to reduce spending in key areas.
For the Protection, Community Services and Parks Department, Wyatt said it affects athletic fields, park and building maintenance, libraries and their technology and fire equipment upgrades. He explained this process drives up costs since inflation erodes money by the time it is spent and subsequently creates problems with asset management.
Wyatt also voiced concern that all council members were not consulted on the budget since he met with the former finance chair as the budget was going to print, contrary to the purported new spirit of collaboration at city hall.
“I am hoping the process is a lot better going forward,” he said, noting he appreciated the new finance chair reaching out to him.
Fire Paramedic Service / Fire Inspections
Annual rooming house inspections that included Livability Bylaw assessments were started this year at no extra cost to the city. This was the result of focused interdepartmental cooperation between Fire Protection Services and the Civic Bylaw Department.
Three fire inspectors are proposed to be added in 2017. The positions will begin to cover their costs over three years from fees and charges for their services.
The positions eventually came as a result of the 2013 Speedway fire that prompted recommendations to inspect high, medium and low hazard industrial buildings.
The three inspectors will look at medium hazard industrial buildings in 2017; two more inspectors are proposed to cover low hazard industrial facilities the following year.
There is no provincial mandate for the city to inspect industrial buildings, nor rooming houses. After disastrous fires to both, the city was prompted to act.
Public outcry and community work in Point Douglas helped the city to “do whatever it took” to come up with a plan to prevent fire deaths in rooming houses.
Unlicensed and Illegal Rooming Houses
Stan Dueck, Manager of Development and Inspections arrived at 9:42 p.m. on Friday night to provide an update to the City’s approach to unlicensed, illegal rooming houses.
He explained that rooming houses must meet modern zoning and building codes if created after 1986 (since rooming houses up to 1986 had to meet that year’s codes which were then grandfathered (applied) into the future).
The city responds to illegal rooming houses – those converted after 1986 that don’t meet code – by involving the Fire Prevention Branch. They will issue an order to vacate the building, said Dueck.
He explained that when the city tries to enforce code violations while people are still living in the rooming house, it can take years to wind through the court system while the owner continues receiving income – all the while knowing code requirements will never be met.
“We have a much more motivated owner when the building is vacated and we say you can’t operate legally until you become legal,” Dueck said.
This means updating to a full multi-family equivalent of an apartment building, described by Dueck as, “virtually impossible to to meet.”
He added, there are a few circumstances where meeting code requirements are possible, especially with newly built structures or structures on a commercial street.
Eadie asked if this was the typical response by the city, such as when the Point Douglas community’s Powerline – a community telephone service for anything residents need help with – calls 311 about illegal rooming houses in their area.
311 protocols now include a new “screening system” for calls regarding illegal rooming houses. Upon receiving a complaint, 311 staff will in turn send the information to the appropriate civic area.
Sel Burrows, President of the Point Douglas Residents Committee, said in November that vulnerable residents will not call 311.
In the fall the Point Douglas community developed a know-your-rights brochure about rooming houses that contained contact information that was slipped under residents’ doors; complaints had already come in to the Powerline.
In November, Burrows asked the the city for their registry list of rooming houses in Point Douglas (licensed and legal rooming houses).
Burrows said the list would have allowed citizens to compare legal houses on the registry to all the houses they know are operating as rooming houses in their neighbourhood. If they discovered such a building was not on the registry, they would have identified an unlicensed and illegal operation.
This request was denied by the city and Burrows put in a Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA) request for it. The request was also denied.
As far as rooming house complaints to the city, Dueck said his department is trying to “clean up the list that we have.” The list of illegal houses is compiled from complaints or discrepancy situations such as when owners claim they are no longer operating a rooming house.
“We do not have the staff to take a more proactive approach and literally comb the streets and look for multiple mail boxes and match that against the list of the city registry,” Dueck said.
But this action is exactly what Point Douglas residents want to do themselves using their knowledge of their neighbourhood.
Eadie questioned if there was an assistance program for those evicted.
“If it comes to Fire Prevention issuing an order to vacate they will typically work with Community Services and the Province of Manitoba to make sure there are housing options,” said Dueck.
There are about 60 to 70 investigations of illegal rooming houses a year, he noted.
The presentation was moved as information to the committee.
Porgy the Pot Bellied Pig Prompts Policy
Near the beginning of the meeting, the appeal was denied for Porgy the pot bellied pig to be exempted from prohibited pet status.
But, 12 hours later and moments before the City of Winnipeg live stream went black, the committee burst into applause.
“The department has the authority to create a policy on service animals,” said Ray Pagktakan, committee chair.
The senior committee clerk clarified the details. “They are working on an internal policy so that we don’t have these issues coming up, and they’re also working with the Human Rights Commission.”
As the hours melted away into the night, I began to wonder if councillors took light exercise on their breaks or else had access to a physiotherapist. Sitting that long attentively at budget analysis was no easy task.
I hear marathon meetings aren’t uncommon at city hall. Council might like to consider the merciful inclusion of foot rest recliner chairs along with triple strong brew coffee within the 2017 budget when it comes before them on December 13.