Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Formula for property-tax hikes

Wasylycia-Leis ties rate hikes to city's population and inflation

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Mayoral candidate Judy Wasylycia-Leis arrives at her first news conference Tuesday afternoon at Wightman Green park in St. James.

JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Mayoral candidate Judy Wasylycia-Leis arrives at her first news conference Tuesday afternoon at Wightman Green park in St. James. Photo Store

Mayoral candidate Judy Wasylycia-Leis has pledged to limit future property-tax hikes in Winnipeg to the combination of inflation and population growth.

At the first policy announcement of her second campaign for mayor, the former NDP MP and MLA promised if she's elected in October, property taxes would not go up higher next year than the aggregate of the city's population growth rate and the overall rate of inflation.

In 2014, this formula would have amounted to a 3.5-per-cent property-tax hike in Winnipeg. The city grew by 1.3 per cent over 2013 - to 708,000 people from 699,000 - and last year's inflation rate in Manitoba was 2.2 per cent.

Wasylycia-Leis said it is important to let Winnipeggers know what they can expect at tax time. She suggested incumbent Mayor Sam Katz -- who defeated her in 2010 -- misled the public by promising to do whatever he could to avoid raising property taxes.

Under Katz, the city raised frontage levies in 2011 and raised property taxes in 2012, 2013 and 2014. Wasylycia-Leis said the combined increases exceeded her 2010 pledge to raise property taxes by two per cent a year for four years.

"That turned out to be pretty fiscally conservative, compared to what the administration brought in," she told reporters Tuesday following a speech in front of about 200 supporters at Wightman Green, a park in St. James.

"Winnipeggers have said they are prepared to support (a property-tax hike) if they see that money going to the basic needs of the city, like infrastructure."

Over the past two years, the city has dedicated some of the cash it collects from property-tax hikes to infrastructure renewal. This year, the city raised the pool of taxes on existing properties by 2.95 per cent, with two of those percentage points dedicated to infrastructure-renewal reserves.

Wasylycia-Leis said that move was a good start but was not sure whether she would maintain this fiscal policy if she's elected mayor,.

Wasylycia-Leis also made broad promises to improve infrastructure, but declined to provide specifics.

She promised to repair streets, sidewalks and back lanes, replace sewers and water mains and improve snow removal, water distribution and garbage and recycling pickup. She promised to explain how she would accomplish all this later in her campaign.

"This is a four-month campaign. We've got many days ahead of us," she said, describing her Tuesday announcement as merely a "road map for the future."

Wasylycia-Leis also pledged to establish independent oversight over major city construction projects to prevent future situations such as the "fire-hall fiascos and cost overruns on the police headquarters." She said details of this oversight plan will come later in her campaign.

Wasylycia-Leis also unveiled a new campaign slogan: "A city that works." She said she took the slogan from Our Winnipeg, the city's long-term planning framework.

The slogan "The City that Works" was coined in the 1950s by Chicago mayor Richard J. Daley, who served a record 21 years in office but was dogged by corruption charges against members of his administration.

Fellow Winnipeg mayoral candidates reacted nonchalantly to Wasylycia-Leis' event. Former councillor Gord Steeves issued a short statement welcoming her to the race, lawyer Brian Bowman said he'll likely favour a hike closer to the inflation rate alone and Coun. Paula Havixbeck said Winnipeg should be able to avoid a property-tax increase altogether in 2015.

bartley.kives@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 4, 2014 B1

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