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For two readers, for the umpteenth time...

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I received two snippy emails on my coverage of school boards budgets.

Well, OK, a lot more than two complaints, but these two were signed.

One thanked The National Post for running a Frontier Centre report on public school costs increasing at a faster pace than enrolment, noting that he sure hadn’t seen that report in the Free Press.

The second found it funny that I make no mention of school trustees allegedly performing a tax grab under the confusion of reassessment.


Each year I read the FRAME (Financial Reporting and Accounting in Manitoba Education) report when it comes out in the fall, and I analyze it for both the newspaper and at far greater and more rambling length here in my blog.

And as enrolment has stagnated the last few years — up a few kids, down a few kids, statistically insignificant overall — I’ve pointed out that the costs of running the $2.1-billion public education system are going up seemingly inexorably each year by a ballpark figure of $75 million, maybe 3.5 to 4.2 per cent. Most of that is higher salaries and benefits combined with more people being on the payroll.

Each year, reader, each year.

As for the second, I’ve written about the assessed values of properties being the driving force behind the entire public school financing system — though taxes are the visible tip of the iceberg — about assessment’s creating inequities in what is purportedly an equitable public education system.

And I’ve explained umpteen times how to sleuth out if there’s been a tax grab.

One more time.

A mill rate is set by taking the assessment base and dividing it into the amount of money that school trustees want to raise through education property taxes, then doing a whole bunch of arithmetic. The result will be two digits, usually in the teens — occasionaly a single digit or in the 20s — followed by at least three decimal places.

Values usually go up during a reassessment, so now it’s a far bigger number being divided into the amount of money raised through taxes. Thus, mill rates usually go down after a reassessment.

That’s where trustees could pull off a tax grab, by raising far more money than usual in taxes, knowing most people couldn’t figure out what had happened.

So, the key is to look at the amount of money raised through the special levy year to year.

If it’s up 3.6 per cent, then the school board is not trying a sneaky tax grab. If it’s up 9.2 per cent, you have a gotcha moment.

A few years ago, after reassessment, Winnipeg school board claimed to have frozen taxes when the mill rate was the same as the year before. However, the amount collected through the special levy rose something like 7.7 per cent, so I reported a huge tax increase, which got the trustees really miffed.

Another year, another reassessment, St. James-Assiniboia compared the taxes paid by $100,000 homes year-to-year, and said it had kept taxes to about a $2 increase on that home, and most media reported that.

I reported a record tax jump for the division, something north of 15 per cent.

That’s because a $100,000 house before and after reassessment is not the same house; that $100,000 house last year will be a $119,000 house, or an $111,000 house.

All sorts of things affect how your tax bill this year will compare to last year, in percentage changes.

More taxpayers may have joined the tax rolls to share the burden, which generally will lower your poential increase — IKEA, for instance, or new homes in Amber Trails or Sage Creek paying property taxes for the first time.

Let’s say the average change in assessed value of homes in your division is an increase of $17,000. If your home went up $24,500, you’ll be paying a greater share than you did the year before, and the percentage that your taxes go up will be greater than the average; If your home went up $8,200 in assessed value, then the reverse happens, and you’ll pay a smaller share. On a typical tax bill with an average change of $50, you might be paying $60 or $40.

How different categories of properties change will also affect what you pay. If commercial reassesment went up seven per cent, while homes went up 19 per cent, more of the burden will be shared by homeowners.

And next week, someone who hasn’t read this blog will complain that I’m keeping this information hidden from befuddled taxpayers.


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About Nick Martin

Nick Martin is the old bearded guy at the back of the newsroom, the most experienced reporter at the Winnipeg Free Press, having started his career in Ontario in 1971.

He’s been covering education for the Free Press since the spring of 1997, after decades primarily covering municipal politics, including a four-year stint at the Ontario legislature for the London Free Press.

Nick moved to Manitoba in 1988 with his Winnipeg-born wife, who is a professor at the University of Manitoba. They have two kids, both of whom graduated from Grant Park High School: son Chris and daughter Gillian.

Nick has won a national journalism award from the Canadian Association of University Teachers, two Manitoba Human Rights Journalism awards, and the Ontario Reporters Association investigative award.

Nick is a long-distance runner, having finished and survived 18 marathons and 15 half-marathons and 30-kilometre races, and having (barely) survived 10 years as an outdoor and indoor soccer coach.

Nick became a soccer referee in 2007, delighting in his 60s in outrunning 16-year-olds and keeping his distance from obstreperous coaches and parents.

Nick and his wife have discovered a mutual love for kayaking at their Whiteshell cottage, and are both regulars at the Reh-Fit Centre. They hold season tickets to both the Manitoba Theatre Centre and the Warehouse, and as empty nesters, have rediscovered the joys of an active winter vacation.

A native of Jarrow-on-Tyne, England, Nick is a member of the Toon Army as a Newcastle United supporter, and a proud citizen of Leafs Nation.

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