Bids to overturn city's 2021 budget defeated 5-4

Thompson city council passed up a chance at its June 7 meeting to cement its place in Manitoba municipal history by rescinding the budget it passed one month earlier.

“If it were to be rescinded it’s basically unknown what the implication would be,” said city manager Anthony McInnis when asked about what would happen if a motion put forward by Coun. Duncan Wong to rescind the financial plan was successful. “They have not run into a situation like this.”

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The financial plan was approved in a 5-4 vote May 10, five days before the deadline to submit it to the province.

Wong said since all the councillors worked together during the budget process, he would have liked to see the financial plan passed by a unanimous vote and said council is not treating its taxpayers fairly by budgeting for annual surpluses. He said that this year’s budget is $8 million more than the $34 million budget in 2018 and that the last three budgets have seen surpluses of $1 million at the end of each year.

“We are taking money out of the taxpayers’ savings account to put in the city savings account and we budget for profit,” he said.

Wong and the other three councillors who voted against the financial plan on May 10 remained opposed to it.

“I think it was wrong then. I still think it’s wrong,” said Coun. Les Ellsworth. “I will stand by my decision and I will vote to rescind this resolution.”

Coun. Jeff Fountain said he was voting to rescind because he believes the budget is unsustainable, while Coun. Earl Colbourne said he would have supported the budget if it hadn’t included a property tax increase but not with that tax hike.

Councillors who opposed the motion to rescind said passing it would effectively shut the city down.

“We would have no ability to spend money or operate as of tomorrow,” said newly appointed deputy mayor Kathy Valentino.

A bylaw to rescind the levy bylaw establishing property tax rates for 2021 that was passed May 10 was also defeated 5-4 at first reading.

Prior to the vote, McInnis warned that the result of passing such a bylaw could be dire. 

“Repealing the bylaw rather than amending would put the city in a precarious position,” he said. 

Wong said he worried property tax increases could be too much for some to bear.

“I’m so worried about some small businesses will never be able to open again, they will be gone for good,” he said. “I did this because I think it’s the right thing to do.”

Ellsworth said higher taxes could worsen the problem of property taxes falling into arrears.

“You might see a lot more money owed to the city than previously,” he said. “I don’t believe we should have, as a council, increased taxes.”

Wong, Ellsworth, Fountain and Colbourne were once again outvoted 5-4, killing the bylaw to repeal the levy bylaw, which would have had to pass three readings to take effect.

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