Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman, Steinbach Mayor Chris Goertzen, Brandon Mayor Rick Chrest, and other mayors and reeves were in Winnipeg Friday asking their provincial counterparts to give cities a larger share of infrastructure funds and more say in how those dollars are spent.
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The Association of Manitoba Municipalities (AMM), a lobby group representing 137 mayors and reeves, said local city councils are responsible for 60 per cent of infrastructure in the province but receive only a fraction of tax revenue to cover infrastructure expenses.
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Municipalities receive 8 cents of every tax dollar to address infrastructure needs, said Steinbach Mayor Chris Goertzen, the AMM president.
"We often have little to no say in how the rest gets spent, despite the fact that we live and work in the communities we represent, so are in the best position to identify top priorities," he said.
The AMM believes Manitobans are on their side. The association says polling they commissioned indicates a large majority of Manitobans believe local councils deserve a "fair share" of infrastructure tax dollars and a say in how to spend them.
Municipalities are not necessarily looking for taxpayers to pay more. The AMM wants to see a more efficient allocation of provincial resources, Goertzen said.
Friday is the first day in a six-week campaign by the AMM to lobby provincial candidates.
Some recommendations the AMM is considering include:
- Exempting or rebating the $25 million municipalities pay to the province through the PST.
- Ensuring all infrastructure dollars budgeted by the province are fully allocated and spent in each budget year.
- Giving municipalities the full one per cent of PST dedicated to infrastructure spending.
Provincial parties respond
Progressive Conservative Leader Brian Pallister said if elected, his party is committed to sending $10 billion toward Manitoba infrastructure spending for municipalities, but that money won't arrive in the form of a blank cheque to any municipality.
"There will be some strings attached, because we are going to be working together," he said. "Call it strings or call it co-operation — I like co-operation."
Pallister said he wants to work with municipal officials to simplify the process on shared costs on infrastructure projects, but also to make sure it remains fair.
Pallister promised to meet with municipal leaders during the election and hinted the Progressive Conservatives would have more to say, possibly a campaign promise.
"Perhaps even before the writ drops — talk to you in a few days," Pallister said.
The NDP responded to the AMM campaign through municipal government minister Drew Caldwell. While the party plans to listen to the mayors' concerns, Caldwell maintains the government's record stands for itself.
"It's important to note that Manitoba has the most generous municipal funding programs of any province in Canada," Caldwell said.
"Could we do better than the best in Canada? Probably we could improve on it, but that's where we're starting from; the best programs in the country."
The Manitoba Liberals preliminary promises come the closest to granting the mayors' their wishes. The party has already promised to give municipalities one percentage point of PST revenue.
"This is something they [municipal politicians] have been asking for years now and it is so important for municipalities to have the dollars to do what they need to do," Liberal Leader Rana Bokhari said Friday.
"It's partnership," Bokhari added. "Manitobans are Manitobans no matter where they are and those municipalities need to be able to make decisions for themselves."