Winnipeg School Division proposes tax hike in budget
Division proposes almost 7% hike to school taxes in Winnipeg
Posted: Feb 6, 2013 12:13 PM CST
Last Updated: Feb 6, 2013 8:29 PM CST
If the Winnipeg School Division’s proposed budget is approved, some city homeowners could see increases on their property tax bills.
The school division has budgeted for a 6.8 per cent increase to school taxes in their 2013 draft budget.The announcement comes on the heels of a city-approved increase to municipal taxes that will see rates increase by 3.87 per cent.
Rita Hildahl, who chairs the board of the trustees for the division, said the move is necessary because the division’s reserve funds are low. She added the division received only $1 million more from the province in 2013 compared to 2012.
The division is also looking at other cost-saving measures like reorganizing buses through staggering school start times.
Hildahl said the budget change will mean an increase of about $72 a year for school taxes for the average homeowner in the division. Those numbers are based on an average home valuation of about $149,185.
“I think as long as homeowners realize that the taxes for an average home are still $152 lower than they were in 2005, I think it would be palatable,” said Hildahl.
The school division’s draft budget will still have to go to parent councils before it can be approved.
Cathy Collins, who chairs the school division's finance committee, said the extra money is sorely needed.
"We have to make an investment in education so that we can stay as a competitive economy on a global basis," said Collins.
The Winnipeg School Division, which is the largest division in the city, raised taxes last year by 7.8 per cent.
River East Transcona also considers tax hike
Elsewhere in Winnipeg, homeowners in the River East Transcona School Division may want to brace for tax increases as well.
Trustees with the division say they are frustrated and disappointed that they won't see a funding increase for 2013-14.
"No increase creates a huge chAllange in terms of building on the programs [Education Minister Nancy] Allan talks about," board chairman Robert Fraser said in a release.
"If we want to protect programs and see them grow, we will have to turn to the taxpayer to make up the shortfall. It's a fine line we walk."
The board says it is also dealing with rising payroll costs, higher utility and operations expenses, and the costs associated with maintaining older buildings.
Late last month, Allan announced the province is boosting public school funding by $27.2 million this year, an increase of 2.3 per cent.
But some school officials have said the new funding isn't really that much, after the money is distributed across the province.
Municipal taxes also going up
If approved, the education tax increases would go on homeowners’ property tax bills, along with the increase to municipal taxes announced by the City of Winnipeg in January.
City council approved a 3.87 per cent increase to municipal taxes, which will cost the average homeowner $57 more per year based on the average assessment amount of $235,000.
Colin Craig of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation said the latest hike will hit low-income families hard.
“The problem is that so many taxes and government fees are going up much faster than what the average family’s paycheque goes up by,” said Craig.
He said a number of incremental increases are becoming a heavy burden for a lot of taxpayers, and governments need to look at whether the average family can afford the hikes.
“Every government that’s out there, raising their rates or fees, is trying to justify it by saying, ‘Oh, it’s only $5 a month, it’s only $10 a month,’” said Craig.
'What does the school system need?'
The Manitoba Teachers' Society says asking people how they feel about tax increases is asking the wrong question.
Society president Paul Olson said students' needs are increasing, but provincial funding has fAllan short, and Manitobans have an obligation to make up the difference.
"The conversation really doesn't start with, 'What's our tax level? Are we comfortable with two per cent? Are we comfortable with five?'" Olson said.
"The conversation really should begin with, 'What do kids need and what does the school system need?'"
Olson said public education should be funded entirely by government, not by taxing property owners.
The anticipated tide of school tax increases across Manitoba could refuel debate on how education is funded, said Michael Zwaagstra, a researcher with the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.
Zwaagstra said the impact of the province's elmination last year of a tax incentive grant, which helped school boards keep taxes low, is starting to show.
"This year, the numbers make it even more clear that we need to go in the direction of removing education off our property tax bills."
"We see very clearly the province is simply, they give their small increase and then they let the school divisions do the taxing. But of course, there's only one taxpayer."
Zwaagstra said the province's refusal to put a cap on what school divisions can tax means taxpayers should expect yearly increases.
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