Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Townspeople face 'astronomical' tax bill for sewer, water services

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A rural community is facing a whopping tax bill for sewer and water services, thanks in part to a new government regulation.

Property owners in the town of Onanole may have to pay $30,000 per lot to trench and install sewer and water lines down their streets. Amortized over 20 years, that amounts to a $2,400 jump in property taxes per year.

That doesn't include the cost of hookup, which is another $10,000 to $20,000, say opponents.

"It's just an astronomical amount," said Jane Kinley, 67. "As a widowed person, retired, on almost a fixed income, there is no way I can afford that. I have a little one-bedroom house assessed at $89,000 but I would never be able to sell it for that."

Property owners voiced their opposition at a public hearing last Monday in Onanole, which is in the RM of Park on Riding Mountain's southern border.

The problem is project costs have soared since the original estimate a few years ago, said Ray Frey, councillor for the RM of Park, who has spearheaded the new waterworks project.

A big cost increase came from a Manitoba Conservation rule change. When the RM started planning for the project, municipalities could still put sewer and water lines in the same trench so long as they were kept at least a metre apart. In 2012, Manitoba Conservation passed new rules requiring sewer and water lines be in separate trenches. That has added 45 per cent to the project cost, Frey said.

The total cost has also increased due to inflation, plus a consultant's recommendation the RM add eight more lots, he said.

The new cost estimate is $7.2 million. The original cost estimate several years ago was about $2.5 million.

Federal and provincial governments are only willing to pick up about 20 per cent of the cost. So $5.7 million is left to be paid by owners of 195 lots in Onanole.

Alice and George Bourgouin would face a ridiculous cost. George and a partner own 11 undeveloped lots along the main trunk line.

The cost for the waterworks plan works out to $330,000 for their 11 properties, or about $27,000 extra in property taxes per year over 20 years.

A two-thirds majority is required to kill the proposal, or 185 out of a possible 278 people listed as owners of the lots. The opposition fell just six people short of the two-thirds mark, 179 people, at last week's public meeting.

First reading is at a council meeting Monday. Frey said he will participate in a discussion with other councilors before deciding how to vote.

Frey noted with so much opposition, it might be wise to hold off until the senior governments are willing to put up more grant money.

bill.redekop@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 26, 2013 A8

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