Funding hike offers City some latitude

Published on Tuesday, 28 February 2023 07:35

After freezing municipal operating grants for seven years, the Manitoba government has announced an increase in the annual basket funding it provides municipalities to help fund their operations.

And while the exact impact of the 28 per cent increase for the City of Dauphin remains to be seen, it is enough to change the conversations elected officials are having around the 2023 financial plan, mayor David Bosiak said, adding he expects the figure to be around $170,000 or $180,000.

“We were forewarned in some of our earliest meetings this year that inflation in particular, but other things were really going to impact our ability to come up with a budget so this is good news absolutely. As we were looking at this year’s budget, very preliminarily so far, costs are up and so we have to find ways to deal with that. So this announcement will certainly help,” Bosiak said. “The unfortunate part is that it probably just makes up for the lack of funding in the last six or seven years, if you calculate cost of living, even averaging at two per cent a year. It’s a nice chunk of change, but it would have been nice to have that in years previous, as well. But I’m not going to scowl and say, ‘bad Province.’ I’m very happy that they made that decision and it’ll be good for us.”

All municipalities will receive a minimum 24 per cent increase in 2023 to address inflationary impacts. With this increase of up to $47 million, the 2023 municipal operating grant will grow to $217 million from $170 million.

It is still early in the city budgetting process, Bosiak said. The capital budget has been thoroughly examined, he added and is all but set.

“It’s the operating budget that we’re still in the process of working on and I know that there were some hard decisions that were going to need to have be made if we weren’t going to consider increasing taxes,” he said. “I can’t speak for the rest of council, but it’s been very clear to us that a tax raise is likely. But now I don’t know if it’s going to be or not, or how much it will be, based on this particular announcement.”

Council is holding a planning session in early March to plot a strategy for the next four years, which will absolutely have budget implications, Bosiak said, adding he is looking forward to the process. There are other things impacting the budget which are out of council’s control such as utilities, fuel and salaries.

“But there’s some very variable costs on some of the projects we’d like to do,” Bosiak said. “And that’s where I’m hopeful that the increases in our fixed costs related to fuel and heating and those other things, that we will have some room to have some very thoughtful discussion on the things that we want to put in this year. And everything’s going to be validated, so it’s based on what the rest of council and administration believe we have to do as a city going forward.”

And the added money from the province will help the new mayor and council to makes ends meet and, hopefully, move forward on some of their plans.

“If we’re really short a lot of money, it’s not the stuff that you have to pay for that goes first, it’s all those good things that need to be trimmed,” Bosiak said, adding he is hopeful the extra dollars will help offset cost increases in areas such as fuel, snow clearing and upcoming negotiations with employee unions.

“Council, the three incumbents, the three new councillors and myself, are now going to be looking forward and saying, ‘okay, so now the province has increased its funding, maybe getting us back to a bit of an even keel, what are those things that we think are truly important for our community?’ And they will likely be in the discussion longer now than if it was a situation where we’re short, we have to raise taxes, we have to cut programs or services and we’re still looking at a deficit. So it’s going to make the decisions maybe a little bit easier, but this isn’t like winning the lottery.”

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Published in Dauphin Herald News