Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Tax bills to rise, but how much?

-- Mayor to table budgets next week -- Second consecutive property-tax hike

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Winnipeggers will soon find out how much more they'll have to fork over on their property-tax bill this year.

Next Wednesday, Mayor Sam Katz will table Winnipeg's 2013 operating and capital budgets, which outline how much the city will spend on new construction, policing and road repairs this year. Winnipeg will see its second straight property-tax hike to offset the rising cost of city services and increased spending on items such as police and paramedics.

Council finance chairman Coun. Russ Wyatt (Transcona) warned in November it would not be fiscally responsible to return to a tax freeze. He said property-tax bills will rise again in 2013, though he declined to elaborate on how much more residents can expect to pay.

"There's no doubt that we're going to have a tax increase," Wyatt said on Wednesday.

Winnipeg's 14-year property tax freeze came to an end in 2012 when city council approved a 3.5 per cent tax hike to generate an additional $14.8 million. The increase cost the average homeowner $48 to $60, depending on their property assessment.

The city's 2012 operating budget outlined $900 million in spending on all services from policing to insect control and snow removal -- a $53-million spending increase over the 2011 budget, primarily due to the rising cost of emergency services.

Fort Rouge Coun. Jenny Gerbasi said councillors who are not part of the mayor's executive policy committee are not involved in the pre-budget process, which makes it difficult to assess the impact on services when the spending plans are initially made public. She said the 14-year tax freeze created a huge funding gap and it's unclear how Winnipeg will be able to pay for existing services even with another property-tax increase.

"Every year they claim there's no impact on services and yet you know there has been an impact over the years of freezing taxes," Gerbasi said, calling the budget process "terrible" since it's done behind closed doors and gives community groups little time to provide input.

Next year, the city plans to hold pre-budget consultations, which Gerbasi said she hopes will make the budget process more collaborative.

In the past month, city officials have offered a glimpse at Winnipeg's construction plans for 2013 and already announced the city has earmarked $1.1 million to complete the design of the second leg of the Southwest Transitway, $7.3 million for the first of the city's new recycling centres and $10 million to ease traffic congestion in the Polo Park area.

Coun. Paula Havixbeck (Charleswood-Tuxedo) said she would like to see the city allocate more money to make the school resource officer program permanent with 15 police officers. Currently, the city splits the total $1.1 million cost of the project with the province and the school division.

She would like to see the city, province, and school division spend an additional $400,000, which would cost the city an extra $133,000.

She said she would like to increase the number of officers and make the program available to any school division that wants to participate, noting the idea is to establish good relationships between young people and police.

Havixbeck plans to introduce a motion to have the funding included in the 2013 budget later this month.

"It's more about relationships so kids feel they have someone to turn to when there's a fight or drug deal that's about to go down or some bullying issues or a suicidal friend that's gone missing," she said.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 3, 2013 B1

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