The historic property tax freeze in Winnipeg has come to an end.

After 14 consecutive years of holding the line and finding other ways to cover the costs of running its services, city politicians on Tuesday said they could no longer afford to keep the freeze.

The executive policy committee has tabled a preliminary operating budget of $900 million, partially funded by a 3.5 per cent increase in the municipal portion of property taxes.

"For seven years as mayor, we've been able to keep our property taxes frozen. That would have been my goal for another seven years if it was realistic," Mayor Sam Katz told reporters after the budget was tabled.

The city's operating budget totalled $817.6 million in 2010 and $847.4 million in 2011.

"It comes to a point in time [when] it's just no longer realistic if you want to maintain the services."

Inflation has increased by 38 per cent during the 14-year municipal tax freeze, said Coun. Scott Fielding, chairman of the city's finance committee.

If approved, the property tax increase will bring in an additional $14.8 million to the city coffers.

For homeowners, it means an extra $48 to $60 a year, based on the average assessed home of $235,000.

Water, sewer rate increase proposed


City of Winnipeg bureaucrats are also proposing a combined 14 cent per cubic metre increase in water and sewer rates.

Officials say the increase would add more than $50 a year to the typical homeowner's bill — about six per cent more than last year.

The city's standing policy committee on infrastructure renewal and public works will consider the proposed rate increase on March 5. If approved, the increases would take effect April 1.

In a release, officials said the rate increases are needed to fund $1.2 billion in necessary upgrades to the city's sewage treatment facilities.

Work on the facilities is expected to take five to seven years.

"It's a very difficult decision when you're looking to raise rates," Fielding told reporters.

"What Winnipeggers can be very happy about is compared to other jurisdictions, we still have some of the lowest taxes that are there, the lowest cost of delivering the service."

The operating budget covers the expense of running city services — everything from the police service to garbage pickup and recreation facilities — and all the related salaries.

The 2012 preliminary budget, which amounts to a $52.6-million boost from the previous year, must still be approved by council in about a month.

Of the $900 million in the budget, the police service will receive $220.2 million and the fire and paramedic service will get $154.8 million.

That amounts to increases of $18 million and $11.7 million, respectively, over the previous year. The full increase any property owner will pay on their property taxes has yet to be determined.

The various school boards have not yet decided the education tax portion of that bill.

Highlights:

  • $900-million operating budget.
  • 3.5 per cent increase in municipal property tax, costing homeowners $48 to $60 a year based on an average assessed home of $235,000.
  • 20 firefighters for new Sage Creek station.
  • Funding for 54 police officers (previously committed in 2011 municipal and provincial budgets).
  • Paramedics for the Main Street Project.
  • $603,000 increase in community centre grants.
  • $250,000 increase in tree-pruning services to increase cycle from 13 to 10 years over the next five years.
  • $11.9-million grant to Assiniboine Park Conservancy (increase of $1.1 million).
  • Funding for 55,000 extra hours of transit service with launch of rapid transit in April.
  • $2-million (67 per cent) increase for road resurfacing program. Increase will help resurface 33 additional streets.
  • $300,000 increase in street snow removal.

The budget also projects $15 million in savings that would come from attrition, leaving some city jobs vacant, and efficiencies in providing services.

The city recently adopted its capital budget for 2012.

That $393-million budget, which covers spending on infrastructure matters like roads, buses, bridges, buildings, and sewers, was approved by council in December.

Public feedback on budget


Winnipeggers will have a chance to provide input on the 2012 proposed operating budget at these upcoming committee meetings:

  • Infrastructure renewal and public works (March 5).
  • Property and development (March 6).
  • Protection and community services (March 9).

The city's executive policy committee hears delegations on March 13 and tables recommendations on March 14.

Council votes on the budget March 20.

Anyone wanting to be involved is asked to call 204-986-3732.

Property tax changes
   1999-2011 (cumulative)  2012
 Vancouver 47.7% Not available
 Edmonton 59.0% 5.4%
 Calgary 52.2% 6.0%
 Saskatoon 45.5% 4.0%
 Regina 31.6% 3.9%
 Winnipeg –6.0% 3.5% (proposed)
  (Source: City of Winnipeg)