The provincial government is freezing land-lease rates and service fees paid by provincial park cottagers for another two years.
The province is extending its moratorium on fee increases because it needs more time to establish fair and equitable guidelines, Sustainable Development Minister Rochelle Squires said Friday.
"This means cottagers have predictability for the next two years. They know exactly what their fees will be," she said.
There are approximately 6,200 cottages in 18 Manitoba provincial parks.
Service fee and lease rates have long been a contentious issue among cottagers, many of whom objected to proposed cost-recovery reforms attempted under the previous NDP government.
When the Progressive Conservatives came into office in 2016, they froze cottage service fees and land-lease rates for two years while they took stock of the situation. The freeze was set to expire this July.
"We recognize that it is very important to do full consultation and to ensure that we get it right in the setting of our service and lease fees for cottagers," Squires told reporters.
Currently, the province is subsidizing basic services such as road maintenance, sewer and water and garbage disposal to park cottagers to the tune of about $700,000 a year. It costs the province $3.4 million to provide the services, but it collects only $2.7 million in service fees.
"We are moving towards a full cost-recovery model. We just need to make sure it is equitably established in our provincial parks," Squires said.
The province is also reviewing how it calculates land-rental rates for cottage owners in provincial parks.
The previous NDP government sought to phase in increases in fees to reduce the burden of taxpayer subsidies, but faced stiff opposition from cottage owners. At one point, the previous government calculated cottagers were paying less than half the costs of the services provided to them.
But while the previous NDP government "guestimated" the value of cottage properties in setting land-lease rates, Squires said the Progressive Conservatives are going to take their time to develop a process cottagers can be confident in.
Daniel Klass, an executive member of the Manitoba Provincial Parks Cabin Owners Association, said he's delighted with the announcement.
"Obviously, to hear that there is a freeze for two years provides cottagers with a comfort that what they're paying now is going to be continued," he said.
Cottagers faced a threat of increases of up to 700 per cent for fees and land rental under the NDP, said Klass, who owns a cottage at West Hawk Lake in the Whiteshell.
Determining fair service fees and land-lease rates for owners is a complicated and contentious issue that has been simmering for decades, he said.
Klass also objected to the notion that cottage owners were being subsidized by the province.
He said it "may be true" they don't pay the full cost of services through their fees, but when land-lease payments are counted, the province is ahead by close to $2 million a year.
"In other words, cottagers are contributing to general (government) revenues in the amount of about $2 million a year over and above what their actual service costs are," he said.
Todd MacKay, Prairie director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, said he agreed that the province should take some time to ensure a fair process for the collection of service fees and land rentals.
"They do need to take the time to do it right and recognize the special circumstances in play that make it hard to compare (park services and leases) to other properties," he said.
"Cost recovery is the right goal, and they need to get there."
Larry Kusch didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life until he attended a high school newspaper editor’s workshop in Regina in the summer of 1969 and listened to a university student speak glowingly about the journalism program at Carleton University in Ottawa.