Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Town wants booze tax to pay for RCMP

Province rejected similar plan

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The next time you put back a shot of booze in Swan River, an RCMP officer might be the chaser.

Town council is looking at implementing a three per cent liquor tax, with the cash raised going toward paying for RCMP officers in the community. The matter will be debated at the next council meeting.

Mayor Glen McKenzie, who wasn't at the council meeting this week because he was at the province's disaster planning conference, said Coun. Jason Delaurier brought forward the idea to help pay for RCMP in the town.

"Our single biggest expense is RCMP cost and most of the work they do is problems related to alcohol," McKenzie said on Friday.

"Right now, we have eight RCMP officers for a population of 4,000 and they cost us approximately $100,000 apiece. I wasn't party to the discussion at council, but I understand the money raised would be dedicated specifically to offset RCMP costs."

The province's municipal taxation and funding act does allow municipalities the ability to impose a liquor tax through bylaw, but they have to ask the provincial government for approval.

Premier Greg Selinger, who has not seen the proposal, said a similar booze tax move by Thompson in 2008 was rejected because the province wants alcohol prices to be the same across the province.

Thompson's plan was to put a municipal tax on liquor, hotel rooms, land transfers and meals.

While the proposed booze tax was shot down, the one on hotel rooms was allowed.

As well, a provincial spokeswoman said the province's aim is to see revenue generated by liquor sales pay for things that benefit all Manitobans, including health care, education and infrastructure.

Delaurier said he is still hoping that if the bylaw is passed by council, the provincial government will approve it.

"We need to look for other ways to pay for (police) other than relying on the property taxpayer," he said.

"Somebody's got to be the first to be able to use this mechanism, so why not us?"

Swan River, a community of 3,900, is 475 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg, near the Saskatchewan border.

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation panned the booze tax proposal, arguing cities and towns should cut spending instead of looking for more money.

"Councils need to do more heavy lifting to look at ways of becoming more efficient. They should be looking at things like contracting out to save money," spokesman Colin Craig said.

The booze tax is one of several new local levies that have been floated by municipalities across Canada. Some municipal leaders in other provinces have been pushing the federal government to slap a one per cent tax over and above the GST to pay for infrastructure work.

In Manitoba, delegates to the annual Association of Manitoba Municipalities conference later this month will debate the idea of pushing the provincial government to add a two per cent handling fee on school taxes.

-- with files from The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 10, 2012 A4

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