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Cottage-fee hikes in mail soon

Will end park subsidization, ensure all 'pay their fair share': Mackintosh

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Minister Gord Mackintosh stresses the new fees for cottages in provincial parks such as the Whiteshell were subject to consultation with owners.

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Minister Gord Mackintosh stresses the new fees for cottages in provincial parks such as the Whiteshell were subject to consultation with owners. Photo Store

Annual fees for cottage owners in Manitoba's provincial parks are increasing to reduce the burden of Manitoba taxpayers subsidizing cottage owners in Manitoba's provincial parks, Conservation and Water Stewardship Minister Gord Mackintosh said Wednesday.

The new fees will be phased in over the next decade -- invoices to the roughly 6,000 cottage owners in 18 provincial parks will likely be mailed out next month -- and will be used to maintain and upgrade the parks, Mackintosh said.

"It's moving towards people that benefit to pay their fair share," he said.

'We've got to move away from such heavy Manitoba taxpayer subsidy of these service costs'

-- Conservation and Water Stewardship Minister Gord Mackintosh

These changes mean by the 10th year, approximately $12.7 million will be collected annually in cottage leases -- the current cost of operating provincial parks is more than $40 million annually. Currently, the province only collects $1.7 million in fees from cottagers to cover service costs such as winter road plowing.

"We've got to move away from such heavy Manitoba taxpayer subsidy of these service costs," Mackintosh said, adding fees for cottages in provincial parks have been frozen for more than a decade while the tax load for many cottagers outside parks has escalated.

"The park cottage fees have got so seriously out of balance while the property values have skyrocketed and the cost of services has significantly increased to the point now Manitoba taxpayers are subsidizing services to park cottagers by about 62 per cent," he said.

Mackintosh made his comments to address allegations the fee increase was being imposed without consultation. The province announced the increase last March and followed it up with letters to each cottage owner and held seven open-house consultations last summer. The province has also posted information on the fee changes for each park district online to allow cottage owners to calculate their own fee increases before notices were sent out.

The Whiteshell Cottagers Association has demanded a breakdown of all park service fees and an accounting of how much should be paid by cottagers, versus day users, campers and businesses.

Mackintosh said that information will be made available to the cottagers once an external audit of the new fee system is completed by accounting firm Grant Thornton.

"We are bound and determined to get this right," he said. "Our only interest is for a fair outcome."

Mackintosh added there will be provisions to help some people pay the higher fees. Cottagers can defer park payments until a cottage is sold. The deferred rent would then be taken out of the proceeds of the sale.

"We've got to move to a comparable cost recovery that municipalities require of cottagers," he said.

"There is huge difference between what provincial-park cottage fees are currently and those that must be paid by every other Manitoban who owns a cottage."

bruce.owen@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 9, 2014 A5

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