City council passes budget, squabbles over water bills

After going over the numbers at a public hearing, Thompson city council approved the 201819 budget during their May 7 meeting.

With deputy mayor Colleen Smook absent, council passed the resolution and levy bylaw to approve the budget for the upcoming fiscal year by a decisive 6−2 margin. However, many of the councillors who voted in favour of the $31.5 million budget admitted that they had to make some hard decisions given the current economic climate.

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“This was probably the most difficult budget deliberations this council has had,” said Coun. Blake Ellis. “We made $470,000 worth of cuts, which were very necessary. And I think it also sets up our next council … for their first budget deliberations and there’ll probably be more additional cuts at that point.”

Outside of slashing funds to organizations like the Thompson Recycling Centre and the School District of Mystery Lake, the latter of which won’t be receiving any more grant-in-lieu money until 2022, this budget also outright eliminated summer day camps.

Councillors Ron Matechuk and Duncan Wong voted against the budget, with the former claiming that the city is “going deeper and deeper into the public’s pocket for money.”

However, city councillor and mayoral candidate Penny Byer maintained that the finance committee came up with a sound budget given the parameters and time frame that they had to work with.

“The fact that we’ve been able to maintain our capital projects, which are not coming through tax dollars, primarily from grants and reserves, the fact that we can continue to grow and improve our infrastructure, in that way, I think is positive.”

Mayor Dennis Fenske wrapped up this section of the meeting by saying that the next couple of years will present even more financial challenges, especially since the provincial government has, to date, committed zero funds towards the Mining Community Reserve Fund.

“I’m extremely disappointed with [Trade Minister] Minister [Blaine] Pederson’s response to date on the mining reserve fund. Extremely disappointed with the fact that he was in Thompson on [April 30] and would not meet with council to discuss this high priority issue."

"We will continue to lobby the government, to work hard to soften the blow that will come to this community over the next two, three and four years. And it will be a challenge. We can’t sugarcoat it. But, as with the [Manitoba] Games, we’re up to challenges and we have the people to do that job.”

To see the 2018−19 budget in its entirety, please visit the “files and downloads” section of the city’s official website.

Motion to rescind water main repair bills

During the middle portion of the meeting, Wong and Matechuk brought up some old wounds from a April 9 council meeting by submitting motions to rescind two water repair bills that ended up costing the city $57,215.74.

Back in November 2017, two contractors had to fix a leak at the Water X Industrial Services building on Station/Nelson Road after the original repair team discovered that the problem stemmed from the city’s water main line.

However, Wong and Matechuk contend that the leak originated from Water X’s service line all along, which made it the company’s responsibility to fix.

Matechuk attempted to make his point on Monday by using visual aids and stated that the city should have dealt with the owner of Water X directly instead of taking their directions from the Manitoba Water Services Board.

Meanwhile, Wong believes that the administration deliberately withheld key information about this case in the time leading up to the April 9 meeting where council was asked to vote on whether or not they should pay these bills.

However, the rest of council felt they had enough information to make an educated decision and said that they have an obligation to pay their local contractors.

“Our resident contractors should be paid, because, for some of them, especially facing an uncertain future, one bill that doesn’t get paid could really affect their bottom line and whether they can continue to do business or not,” said Byer.

In the end, both motions to rescind were shot down by the majority of council.

The next council meeting is at City Hall on May 22 at 7 p.m.

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