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This article was published 14/3/2012 (3429 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Owners of a $100,000 home in Flin Flon will pay $548.10 more in school taxes this year than owners of a $100,000 home in Gimli -- is this how a supposedly equitable public school system should be financed?
School trustees across Manitoba are cranking up education property taxes in the mill rates they're submitting to their municipalities this morning.
There's no pattern, no reason obvious to ordinary ratepayers why taxes go up far more in one division than another -- but up they're going, and even in one case, in Melita-based Southwest Horizon School Division, by double digits.
With the assessed property value of homes and businesses within a division continuing to be the key to public-education funding, mill rates range from a low of 10.72 in Gimli-based Evergreen division to a high of 22.9 in Flin Flon.
"It's wholly dependent on that (assessment base)," grumbled Seven Oaks division superintendent Brian O'Leary, frustrated yet again that the lack of tax-paying businesses in Seven Oaks dooms the division to having the city's highest taxes, despite spending less per student than most other city school boards.
"It was a very difficult process," said Pembina Trails chairwoman Dianne Zuk, after her board cut jobs for teachers and educational assistants for special-needs kids, yet still passed a 6.2 per cent tax increase.
"We got hit from both directions -- we got zero from the province, and the equalization is very modest. We were hard-pressed facing that revenue," St. James-Assiniboia chairman Bruce Chegus said. His division's 3.27 per cent tax increase barely maintained the division's position of lowest mill rate in Winnipeg, thanks in part to trustees deciding they couldn't afford to put a police officer in their high schools.
Education Minister Nancy Allan invested $25.5 million more in public school operating grants this year, an increase of 2.2 per cent in the province's share of public education funding -- but close to half the divisions did not qualify for any increase.
Had Allan not guaranteed last year's grants as a minimum, divisions such as Winnipeg and Pembina Trails say they would have lost money. Allan's money was roughly one-third of what's been a normal annual increase in paying for jobs, programs and services.
Allan also killed the tax-incentive grant this year, tens of millions of dollars the NDP government used to entice trustees to freeze property taxes for the past four years.
The provincial funding formula is so confusing and convoluted and so tied to the assessed value of properties within a division that anomalies abound.
Morden-based Western was one of four divisions that hadn't qualified for tax-incentive grants. Despite a 6.3 per cent increase in provincial operating grants, Morden homeowners will pay 9.75 per cent more in education property taxes.
Mystery Lake in Thompson received no increase from the province, but also froze taxes, secretary-treasurer Arnie Assoignon said. Mystery Lake had new taxpayers to share the burden, including two hotels. Trustees also emptied the division's reserve funds, cut money to be set aside for future capital work and did not budget anything for contingency salaries or accrued staff benefits, Assoignon said.
Pembina Trails, with one of Manitoba's richest assessment bases, limited spending increases to 2.3 per cent, but taxes are going up 6.2 per cent. Secretary-treasurer Craig Stahlke explained provincial funding will cover about $54 million of the cost of running schools in Pembina Trails, while the overall budget is $142 million. The province gave the division no increase in funding, so Pembina Trails ratepayers must cover the entire increase in the budget.
A year ago, Pembina Trails qualified for $3 million in equalization funding, Stahlke said.
"That's gone. Fewer divisions get equalization now."
The value of residential properties increased more than the value of businesses, so Pembina Trails homeowners carry a greater share of the increase than business owners, Stahlke said.
With the current funding formula, it could be five to eight years before Pembina Trails qualifies for any increase in provincial operating grants, he said.
Meanwhile, O'Leary said Seven Oaks will continue to have Winnipeg's highest mill rate, even though the division will probably spend less per student than any other city division.
One reason is they must hire more teachers to handle immigration growth of 400-plus students a year, O'Leary said, but an exceptionally low commercial assessment base is the main culprit.
Allan responded to a request for an interview on the budgets with a statement issued through an aide, saying the province continues to be generous with its funding, and its share again exceeded the inflation rate.
"We all understand these are challenging economic times for governments across the country -- for school boards, for municipal governments, as well as provincial and national governments. I have asked divisions to exercise restraint as they consider their budgetary requirements for 2012-13," Allan said.
What's this about reassessment?
The province reassesses the value of properties in Manitoba every two years at their market value as of two years before. You should have received a notice telling you the assessed value of your property for 2012 tax purposes.
So will my property taxes go up or down?
Likely up, since most school boards are raising property taxes, and municipal taxes may also go up in many places. But how much your assessment changed will also be a factor. If your property's assessed value increased more than the average in your school division, you'll be harder hit than those whose property value increased less than the average.
And what's this mill rate?
Simplest answer, it's a figure used to calculate your tax bill. Take the assessment base for your school division, an enormous figure with many zeroes, and divide it into the special levy, which is the amount of money your school trustees want to collect through education property taxes, do some fiddling that affects where the decimal point goes, and you get a figure that is running this year between 10-point-something and 22-point-something.
The levels of increase in provincial operating grants, the increases in education property taxes, and the mill rates for Manitoba public school divisions.
Louis Riel, zero, 3.1, 12.81
Pembina Trails, zero, 6.2, 12.897
River East Transcona, zero, 2.9, 14.286
Seine River, 2.7, 6.49, 14.85
Seven Oaks, 5.6, 6.0, 16.287
St. James-Assiniboia, zero, 3.27, 12.7
Winnipeg, zero, 7.8, 15.668
Beautiful Plains, 4.1, 7.6, 14.63
Border Land,6.6, 5.02, 17.85
Brandon, 5.0, 3.8, 15.38
Evergreen, zero, 6.57, 10.72
Flin Flon, 4.9, zero, 22.9
Fort la Bosse, zero, 4.0, 12.17
Garden Valley, 7.8, 0.06, 19.12
Hanover, 7.6, 3.45, 16.40
Interlake, zero, 5.14, 14.36
Kelsey, 4.2, 2.0, 22.6
Lakeshore, 6.8, 0.3, 19.7
Lord Selkirk, zero, N/A, 13.56
Mountain View, 4.3, 3.43, 18.96
Mystery Lake, zero, zero, 18.2267
Park West, zero, 5.42, 14.83
Pine Creek, 0.3, 6.2, 16.94
Portage la Prairie, 3.8, 2.99, 15.45
Prairie Rose, zero, 5.67, 13.71
Prairie Spirit, zero, 2.74, 15.22
Red River Valley, 1.2, 2.86, N/A
Rolling River, zero, 3.5, 14.9
Southwest Horizon, zero, 10.3, 14.58
Sunrise, zero, 3.45, 14.833
Swan Valley, 1.83, 4.2, 18.7
Turtle Mountain, zero, 4.28, 15.8
Turtle River, N/A, N/A, N/A
Western, 6.3, 9.75, 17.98
Whiteshell, N/A, N/A, N/A
Provincial grants are up 2.3 per cent for the Division Scolaire Franco-Manitobaine. Its budget is based on taxes levied on parents of DSFM students by the school division in which they live, and transferred to the DSFM.