December 8, 2019

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Leaders: get set to talk taxes

Municipalities seek bigger piece of pie

Association of Manitoba Municipalities president Chris Goertzen: 'We're not hiding what we want.'

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Association of Manitoba Municipalities president Chris Goertzen: 'We're not hiding what we want.'

Rural municipalities want more tax revenue, and they expect party leaders to debate and respond to them next week in Brandon.

The Association of Manitoba Municipalities will host the three provincial party leaders at an election debate Wednesday after they've voted on 44 resolutions, including a suite of tax demands.

"When it comes to the April 19 provincial election, obviously there's some important timing that's going on here," said Steinbach Mayor Chris Goertzen, association president.

The AMM represents 137 municipal governments, and for years their interests — the PST tax hike and rural amalgamation — have put them at odds with the NDP government.

The provincial election gives the association a chance to press party leaders for commitments to their interests, which are focused on securing more tax dollars and tax concessions from the province, Goertzen said.

Reeves, mayors and councillors will push the tax concessions they want in the two days before the party leaders stage their election debate.

"We want to make sure that we have the ear of all parties when it comes to this election season. That's quite evident with the resolutions," Goertzen said.

NDP Premier Greg Selinger, PC Leader Brian Pallister and Liberal Leader Rana Bokhari are confirmed for the debate at Brandon's Keystone Centre.

Calls from Canada's big cities, including Winnipeg, for a greater share of provincially collected taxes are accelerating as costs for civic services outpace the ability of tax revenues to cover them.

Canadian municipalities outside major metropolitan areas in every province, including Manitoba, also say they need more money and new tools to raise it.

Provincially, two bitter disputes are stoking demands here — the province's PST tax hike and provincial legislation that forced smaller municipalities to amalgamate.

A year ago, the provincial Progressive Conservatives gave up their court battle to overturn the 2013 PST tax hike after a Queen's Bench ruling said they didn't have a legal leg to stand on. The Tories said they'd take their battle to the public arena.

Municipalities are still on a slow burn over legislation that took effect in 2013 and forced them to amalgamate. By last year, when the association dropped its lawsuit against the forced amalgamation, some 50 municipalities had amalgamated out of the 85 required to merge by Jan. 1, 2015. The remaining 35 have since amalgamated.

Now the association wants the province to pick up the tab for the costs of the mergers.

"We're not hiding what we want. We want a better partnership, but it takes dollars to do that," Goertzen said.

He said municipalities get the short end of the stick on taxes — about eight cents of every tax dollar collected at a provincial level. At the same time, they're responsible for footing 50 cents out of every infrastructure dollar.

The Selinger government promised a new tax deal in its speech from the throne this week.

alexandra.paul@freepress.mb.ca

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History

Updated on Friday, November 20, 2015 at 8:41 AM CST: Replaces photo

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