July 19, 2018

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Questions abound as urban reserve deal revealed

<p>City officials have negotiated an agreement with Peguis First Nation to establish an urban reserve at 1075 Portage Ave. in Winnipeg.</p>

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

City officials have negotiated an agreement with Peguis First Nation to establish an urban reserve at 1075 Portage Ave. in Winnipeg.

The revelation a First Nation property on Portage Avenue is being converted into an urban reserve is drawing mixed reaction from nearby business owners and criticism from several business federations.

While all parties contacted Monday by the Free Press said they are supportive of urban reserves, attention on the deal between Peguis First Nation and Winnipeg city hall is focused on the payment in lieu of municipal property taxes. The deal would result in Peguis making annual payments 20 per cent less than currently demanded.

“I don’t think it’s going to affect me. Good on them for getting a deal,” said Brian Van Heyst, owner of Micro Age Manitoba, located on Portage Avenue across the street from the Peguis property.

An administrative report to Wednesday’s executive policy committee meeting proposes council approve a five-year agreement establishing the Peguis property at 1075 Portage Ave. as an urban reserve.

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The revelation a First Nation property on Portage Avenue is being converted into an urban reserve is drawing mixed reaction from nearby business owners and criticism from several business federations.

While all parties contacted Monday by the Free Press said they are supportive of urban reserves, attention on the deal between Peguis First Nation and Winnipeg city hall is focused on the payment in lieu of municipal property taxes. The deal would result in Peguis making annual payments 20 per cent less than currently demanded.

"I don’t think it’s going to affect me. Good on them for getting a deal," said Brian Van Heyst, owner of Micro Age Manitoba, located on Portage Avenue across the street from the Peguis property.

An administrative report to Wednesday’s executive policy committee meeting proposes council approve a five-year agreement establishing the Peguis property at 1075 Portage Ave. as an urban reserve.

The proposal would result in Peguis paying an annual fee, for a wide range of civic services, in an amount equivalent to 80 per cent of its 2018 municipal property tax bill: $46,779.70, versus the tax bill of $58,474.62.

The property is zoned commercial, with several businesses and agencies operating from the location, all apparently connected to the FN, including: Chief Peguis Business Centre; Chief Peguis Investment Corporation; Peguis School Board Post Secondary Department; First Peoples Economic Growth Fund; TWCC Insurance Partners LP; and the Aboriginal Chamber of Commerce.

The City of Winnipeg would not provide a civic official to comment on the proposal ahead of the Wednesday meeting. However, a spokesman clarified Peguis would be required to pay its water and sewer bills without a discount and 100 per cent of the frontage fee.

The spokesman said the businesses and agencies operating from the Portage Avenue location would get the same 20 per cent discount applied to the business taxes they are required to pay.

Officials from Peguis could not be reached for comment.

If approved, it would be the second urban reserve in Winnipeg.

Long Plain First Nation operates a gas station and convenience store at 480 Madison St., and is planning an 80,000-square-foot office complex at the location. A supporting document in the report indicates no discounts were provided to Long Plain.

Under an existing agreement for converting land into reserves, the province will pay city hall a lump sum payment equivalent to five times the annual municipal tax bill shortfall (which would total $58,474).

The report notes the province has already rejected a city request to continue the shortfall payments indefinitely.

Peguis will also have to negotiate separately with the Winnipeg School Division for payments in lieu of school division taxes, but a WSD spokeswoman said the First Nation has not approached the division for discussions of reserve status.

<p>1075 Portage Avenue in Winnipeg.</p>

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

1075 Portage Avenue in Winnipeg.

The deal between Peguis and city hall would be for the provision of the following services: animal control; building permits and inspection; fire protection and emergency response; parks and community services; police; garbage pick-up; transit; wastewater and land drainage sewer; and water supply.

The agreement provides for an annual review of the provision of services for the following year, including future development on the site. Disputes that cannot be resolved would eventually be forwarded for mediation or binding arbitration.

Graham Todd, owner of Reliable Mobility on Portage Avenue, said city officials need to explain why Peguis is being offered a discount on its tax bill.

Todd said he understands the federal and provincial tax rules apply differently to reserve land, but he wasn’t aware that extended to municipalities.

"I would prefer to see everybody in the same community being taxed the same," Todd said. "I don’t like the idea of somebody getting a discount upfront without knowing the reason behind it."

A spokesman for Mayor Brian Bowman said he’ll comment on the terms of the deal at Wednesday’s meeting, adding the mayor is proud to bring the proposal to city hall for consideration.

"Mayor Bowman believes that supporting Winnipeg’s growth requires the city to be open to all economic opportunities and options regardless of their shape or size," said Jonathan Hildebrand. "This includes support for urban reserves, which have not only created increased economic opportunities for Indigenous people, but have also proven themselves to be powerful opportunities to help build and develop cities."

Business groups, including the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, and the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, have expressed concern with the 20 per cent discount to Peguis.

"This looks unfair," said Todd McKay, Prairie director for the taxpayers federation. "When you create a deal that gives one group a benefit and everyone else has to make up the difference, that's not fair."

Loren Remillard, president of the local chamber, said his group supports the establishment of urban reserves, but added First Nations must pay 100 per cent of all municipal services provided to them.

Remillard said he’s concerned the discount with Peguis will prompt Long Plain to renegotiate its deal — and it might set a precedent which could be invoked when the former Kapyong Barracks property is converted into an urban reserve.

"There are more questions than answers at this time, and we’re hoping the city comes forward with some clarification," Remillard said.

Mayoral candidate Tim Diack said he supports the establishment of urban reserves, adding he's not troubled by the discount as Peguis isn't operating a retail venture from the location that competes with area businesses.

Diack said he'd rather city council move ahead with the deal as proposed, rather than have staff spend any more time and money on it.

"I'm always best with the best deal for Winnipeg and we move on rather than dither around and not make a decision and then we end up paying twice as much," Diack said.

aldo.santin@freepress.mb.ca

Aldo Santin

Aldo Santin
Reporter

Aldo Santin is a veteran newspaper reporter who first carried a pen and notepad in 1978 and joined the Winnipeg Free Press in 1986, where he has covered a variety of beats and specialty areas including education, aboriginal issues, urban and downtown development. Santin has been covering city hall since 2013.

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