Rising education taxes across the city and much of the province are prompting a renewal of calls to remove education taxes off of homeowners’ property tax bills.
Let’s Pay Fair, a campaign coalition of some 40 groups representing realtors, cottagers, farmers and business groups, believe trustees should have fought harder for increased funding from the province to avoid the increases.
"The taxpayer is caught in the middle of rising education costs and increased municipal tax costs because of crumbling infrastructure everywhere," said Lorne Weiss, immediate past president of the Manitoba Real Estate Association, one of the group’s involved in the coalition.
All divisions across Winnipeg will see tax increases — from a modest $40 in River East-Transcona and St. James-Assiniboia, to steeper increases of $102 and $76 in the Seven Oaks and Winnipeg school divisions, respectively.
Weiss said education is a core provincial service and should be funded through general revenue, not complicated funding formulas tied to assessed property values and collected by the city.
Although Weiss acknowledged the change might not result in homeowners saving money, it would simplify the process and alleviate such fluctuations.
"We recognize that it can’t be done overnight," Weiss said. "We’re advocating that in the interim, the province levies a province wide mill-rate, so everyone is paying the same, with a gradual move to 100% funding from general revenue."
Although the province announced an increase of $25.5 million in operating grants this year, only two city school divisions received more funding.
That makes the budgeting process harder, especially when enrolment spikes, said WSD chair Kristine Barr. The division saw enrolment increase by 2.5% and expenditures jump 4.6%, she said.
"The only way we could maintain existing programs and services and continue to provide quality programming was to impose an increase," she said.
Bruce Chegus, chair of the St. James-Assiniboia board of trustees, said divisions must have some taxing authority to maintain autonomy and fund the particular needs of each division for programs such as language classes or the arts.
"Historically, the local taxpayer only participated in overall education tax based on funding local needs," Chegus said.
The division believes the current funding system is overly reliant on property tax and is lobbying for 80% provincial funding for operating costs, with 20% coming from local property taxes. In 1985, provincial funding accounted for 73% of operating costs. For 2012-13, it accounts for only 59.5%, he said.
"As it is, we’ve been forced to look to local taxpayers for basic operating costs which we argue the province should cover," he said.
The MREA recently passed a motion asking the province to move toward amalgamating school divisions.
"When you compare us to cities of equal or larger size, they only have one school division.
Calgary, Edmonton, Regina, Toronto," he said. "We have a huge duplication of costs."