Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Where is our money going?

Cottagers wonder after jump in fees

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Andy and Sophie Szukiewicz have had their year-round cottage at Hecla Island since 1989.

They know they need to pay more.

Just not that much.

Last year, they paid $600 in fees and Crown-land rent. This year, their bill will be about $1,750 under the province's new provincial park cottage-fee system.

'No other Manitoban has their vacation or cottage investment tax subsidized'

-- Conservation and Water Stewardship Minister Gord Mackintosh

All the Szukiewiczs want to know is where the extra money is going.

"It's hidden," Andy Szukiewicz said Thursday at the legislative building. "We're willing to pay. We know costs go up. Those things are normal. We would just like to have some transparency and some kind of accountability."

They and about 50 other provincial park cottagers -- there are 6,162 cottagers in 21 park areas in Manitoba -- found a sympathetic ear in the Opposition Progressive Conservatives, who introduced a resolution in the legislature Thursday that called the NDP's new park cottage-fee system just another back-door tax grab.

The resolution also called for the legislature to acknowledge the NDP failed to properly consult with cottagers and disclose how the new service fees and rent increases would improve parks. The cottagers rallied on the legislative building's front steps and said they want more information about where their money is going.

Conservation and Water Stewardship Minister Gord Mackintosh responded the Tory resolution -- it had no chance of passing the NDP majority-led house -- appeared to signal the tax-averse PCs supported a position all Manitoba taxpayers should continue to subsidize cottagers in provincial parks.

"Manitoba Conservatives want Manitobans who can't afford a cottage to pay for those who can," Mackintosh said. "It just seems perverse. No other Manitoban has their vacation or cottage investment tax subsidized. That's not tax fairness. If the Conservatives stood for tax fairness, they would support park cottages paying their way like every other cottager across Manitoba."

Mackintosh also said the Tories put no thought into their support of the cottagers other than to take a cheap political shot at the NDP. Mackintosh was attending a conference on gas and oil transportation in Vancouver Thursday and was not in the house.

He added the park-fee increase is being cushioned by a 10-year phase-in and has a cap of $3,000. Payments can also be deferred until a cottage is sold.

The province says it needs to increase cottage fees in provincial parks this year to put more onus on cottagers to pay for services such as garbage pickup and roads. The province says service fees for park cottagers have been frozen for a decade, which has created a situation in which it only collects $1.7 million in fees from cottagers to cover service costs. The estimated cost of services for cottagers is more than $4 million.

The fees are also going up to more closely match what cottage owners outside provincial parks pay in municipal taxes. The increases come after a year of consultation with cottage owners and an independent audit of the new scheme.

The Szukiewiczs, who are retired, now wonder how they'll be able to afford their second home.

"We want to keep our place," Szukiewicz said. "We built it for our children and grandchildren. Our kids will be getting some kind of bill to help their old folks with paying for it."

bruce.owen@freepress.mb.ca

Do you think the cottagers' rally helps increase sympathy for their plight? Join the conversation in the comments below.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 28, 2014 A7

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