The mayors of the province’s largest cities presented a united front at Winnipeg’s city hall today to demand that the province provide them with the long-term, reliable funding they need to repair crumbling municipal roads, bridges, sewers and water systems.
Mayor Sam Katz played host to Brandon Mayor Shari Decter Hirst, Morden Mayor Ken Wiebe, Steinbach Mayor Chris Goertzen, Portage la Prairie Mayor Earl Porter, Winkler Mayor Martin Harder, Thompson Mayor Tim Johnston as well as Association of Manitoba Municipalities (AMM) president Doug Dobrowolski. The municipal leaders jointly condemned the province for using a PST hike to fund predominately provincial projects and leaving the funding of municipal infrastructure high and dry.
The Selinger government has unleashed a storm of protest over its decision to raise the PST by a percentage point to eight per cent effective July 1 to fund what it calls "critical infrastructure."
But the province defines infrastructure more broadly to include schools, hospitals and flood fighting as well as roads, bridges, sewer and water works.
The municipalities have long called for the revenue from a percentage point of the PST – about $277 million a year – from the province to be set aside for municipal infrastructure.
"Every municipality in Manitoba is struggling right now," Katz told reporters. "The reality is that as the province of Manitoba makes plans for the future, Manitoba municipalities are being left behind."
The mayors and the AMM said they would be hit hard by the provincial budget as they will now pay more PST on their purchases. For some municipalities without sufficient reserves, this may mean hitting up ratepayers again to avoid running a deficit this year.
In the city of Winnipeg’s case, the additional PST adds up to $1.4 million annually.
A spokeswoman for government Minister Ron Lemieux said Manitoba municipalities currently receive an amount greater than one point of PST for local infrastructure through the Building Manitoba Fund.
"An increase in the PST allows Manitoba to continue to build and improve Manitoba's critical infrastructure needs such as needed flood protection, but also includes revenue that makes building schools like Sage Creek a reality," Naline Rampersad said in an email, referring to Wednesday’s school announcement in southeast Winnipeg.
She said overall, the City of Winnipeg will receive $21.5 million more this year (an increase of 12.5%) for city capital projects. Total capital support to Winnipeg will increase to $194 million.
"All in, including money for operating (costs), support for the City will be $286 million this year for everything from roads, to transit, to libraries," Rampersad said.