The City of Winnipeg has a series of reserve funds for investment in heritage properties, housing rehabilitiation, improvements to Assiniboine Park, perpetual care of city cemetaries, and much more. The purpose of these funds is to ensure that the city will be able to meet its obligations in the face of the inevitable fluctuations in budget allocations and costs.
In the 1980s it used to be an annual ritual for city council to balance the budget by raiding these funds. Mayors Susan Thompson and Glen Murray, who were the city’s chief executives from 1992 until 2004, had the good sense to put a stop to that practice. Now the city is reviving it.
Our troubles began a long time before the 1980s, when the city set out on a policy of building roads, sewers and water systems across the bald prairie, far in excess of our actual needs, and far beyond what we could afford to maintain. (See “Why sprawl is a bigger problem when growth is slow”) Ms Thompson and Mr Murray didn’t put a stop to that, but at least they forced the city to face its budget problems, through an honest accounting of our assets and liabilities, instead of continuing the annual charade of covering current requirements by impairing our ability to meet our obligations in future.
Dipping into the reserve funds to put money into road maintenance and building, is, in practice, a raid on the public library system, the transit system, the golf courses, the city’s computer system, the development of much-needed open space, and much more, in order to deal with our ruinous infrastructure deficit. I hope city council, if it cannot solve this problem, will at least opt not to sweep it under the rug, leaving our children and grandchildren to clean up the mess.