Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Industry pans billboard tax hike

Big increases approved by property committee

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Winnipeg's outdoor-advertising industry has a loud message for city hall: Tax hikes proposed for billboards and digital signs are outrageous.

On Friday, council's property committee approved a long-awaited package of regulations governing billboards and digital signs. City land-use officials have spent four years working on a means of regulating signs bearing video, animation and other electronic images, none of which were governed effectively by the city's telephone book-sized zoning bylaw.

The largest players in the outdoor-advertising world were OK with the plan -- until new taxes were announced this week.

The proposed tax for conventional billboards is $5.70 per square foot, a 380 per cent hike from the current $1.50 per square foot, while previously untaxed digital signs would go to $34.20 per square foot.

The proposed taxes would take effect next summer, said council property committee chairman Jeff Browaty (North Kildonan). "The fact is the taxes have been too low for too long," he said, adding the increased revenue will remove a portion of Winnipeg's tax burden from property owners.

Outdoor-advertising firms and their contractors appeared before the committee Friday to pan the hike, with one noting homeowners would storm city hall if council proposed a 380 per cent property-tax hike.

The annual tax burden on the average billboard in Winnipeg would rise to $1,140 from $350 because of the move, said Doug Forsyth, municipal affairs director for Pattison Outdoor Advertising, which maintains 350 billboards in Winnipeg.

"These changes put a lot of businesses at risk," Forsyth told reporters after the vote. "We will have to make hard decisions about the way we do business in the city."

Toronto, Montreal, Philadelphia and New Jersey are among the only municipalities in North America to tax billboards, Forsyth said. Winnipeg should not base its financial plans on those of larger cities such as Toronto, he said.

Forsyth said he hopes council does not approve the new fees on Dec. 12. Mayor Sam Katz's office said he won't vote on the matter, because his Winnipeg Goldeyes own and operate a digital billboard.

Forsyth and other industry representatives also decried the lack of consultation on the taxes.

City property director Barry Thorgrimson said Winnipeg has waited long enough to approve the new regulations.

"We're always accused of moving slowly. Now we're being criticized for being too fast," he said.

St. Norbert Coun. Justin Swandel called the outdoor-advertising industry arguments "self-serving" and suggested high taxes for digital billboards are intended to prevent them from proliferating.

Winnipeg's digital-sign industry is also opposed to other aspects of the new regulations, which include a ban on signs bearing digital moving type due to the potential to distract motorists.

City properties sold

Other property-committee decisions on Friday:

Dominion Bridge: The committee agreed to sell the Dublin Avenue industrial site for $4 million. The city expects to net $918,000 from the sale, once environmental cleanup costs and a $100,000 commission are taken into account.

Old St. Boniface police station: Councillors voted to sell 227 Provencher Blvd. for $680,000 and use $300,000 of the proceeds to maintain a sculpture garden and improve the streetscape.

Fire-paramedic land swap properties: The committee voted to market the soon-to-be-decommissioned fire-paramedic station No. 11 on Berry Street and a vacant parcel of city land on Mulvey Avenue East, but hold on to the old Station No. 12 on Grosvenor Avenue. All three properties were once slated to be swapped for the new Station No. 12, built on a plot of Taylor Avenue land owned by Shindico Realty.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 1, 2012 A12

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