Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

City of Winnipeg does very well by its neighbours

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After a full season of almost non-stop City of Winnipeg scandals over police station cost over-runs, construction mismanagement, stadium debacles, sweetheart property swaps and the like, Bartley Kives's sheer audacity in proposing that well-administered jurisdictions on the city's periphery should be required to help pay for this slovenly behaviour through forced amalgamation is breathtaking (Let's give Unicity another go, Dec. 4).

While Kives frames his proposition in terms of procedural co-ordination and co-operation, his beef boils down to the disparity in property taxes between Winnipeg and its neighbours, which becomes apparent in his final paragraph and which he dismisses as "too freaking bad."

For the record, let's not forget that towns and RMs around Winnipeg don't receive charity handouts from the city when it comes to public services such as water, sewer, street maintenance and the like. They look after themselves.

Exurban individuals don't get any breaks either. To borrow books from the Centennial Library, they must buy an annual membership for $137, which city dwellers get free. To join a Winnipeg-run sports club, such as the Deer Lodge Tennis Club, they must pay a sizable membership premium above what city players are charged.

To participate in swimming and other recreational programs, as we've seen with the recent release of the Winnipeg Leisure Guide, non-residents are discriminated against to the point of, in practical terms, complete lockout.

For a Jets game at the MTS Centre or a ballet performance at the Centennial Concert Hall, outsiders pay no more than city residents, but it should be noted that funds to build the structures that house these performances usually come from at least two levels of government. And in the case of such artistic entities as the Royal Winnipeg Ballet and Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre, they receive federal and provincial support. So we all chip in through taxes.

And what about all those shopping trips rural residents make to the city? Not having, as a rule, their own big-box stores, supermarkets and specialty outlets, outsiders come to Winnipeg for these goods and services in droves. Many retail establishments that pay hefty city taxes get a goodly quotient of the wherewithal to do so from sales to out-of-towners.

And the magnetism of Winnipeg's commercial and cultural sectors is far-reaching, to some extent covering the entire province.

In effect, residents of Winnipeg's economic drainage basin provide the city with the same type of economic benefits as tourists from afar, except they're fuelling the Winnipeg economy 24/7/12 instead of just a few weeks each summer.

The enormous treasure sucked into the city in this way helps generate tax revenue with which to handle all the responsibilities that come with being a big centre.

Thus, outsiders contribute to city tax coffers indirectly, but they get no say in how the money is spent. Their payback is being able to tap into big-city goodies.

That seems to be a pretty reasonable trade-off. And notwithstanding Kives's undocumented reference to the city "fighting endless battles with its neighbours," my take is that we get along reasonably well with one another the way things are.

A lasting solution for the City of Winnipeg is to get its own house in order, not search around for scapegoats to pay for its mistakes.

Bob Holloway is a Headingley resident.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 6, 2013 A13

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