Councillor wants new Waverley West fire hall built with unused growth fees collected by city
Winnipeg has been sitting on $30 million in impact fees due to ongoing legal battle with developers
A Winnipeg city councillor wants to build a fire hall in Waverley West by using a tax collected from new homes built in that suburb and others.
Janice Lukes says her ward is rapidly expanding, and now has a population larger than the city of Brandon, but no fire station.
She wants the money for a fire hall to come from Winnipeg's special growth taxes, which have been called impact fees. The fees, introduced by the city in 2017, are meant to help cover the additional costs of infrastructure in Winnipeg's expanding suburbs.
So far, the city has collected $29.7 million, but hasn't spent any of that money because of an ongoing legal battle with developers over whether the city can charge the fees in the first place.
"It's sitting there collecting interest," Lukes said.
Lukes said a third of the impact fees the city has collected — amounting to $10.2 million — came from new buildings in her ward of Waverley West.
"We're putting two new schools in there. There's a community centre going in, more commercial [buildings]. This place is generating an awful lot of revenue in tax dollars," she said.
"You can't keep building neighbourhoods like this, and raking in the taxes, and not investing back into them."
The impact fee is $500 for every 100 square feet of new residential space. In her ward, a new house would be hit with an additional $10,000 to $15,000 in taxes, she said.
Fire hall needed in 'next two years': Lukes
Lukes said money from the fund should be used now for a fire hall, arguing the money could always be paid back later from a different pool if the city loses the legal battle.
"Three or four years ago, it wasn't as much of a concern because there were very few buildings in Waverley West. But now basically every lot has been sold in all of the Bridgwater, and Bridgwater Centre and South Point [areas]," she said. "We need a fire hall built in the next two years."
A new fire hall would cost between $6 million and $8 million, she said.
Lukes acknowledges that she's asking for a new facility while the city looks to close down other city facilities to save money.
"We have to look at what's being used and utilized. We have to close old facilities down. We have to amalgamate. We have to build some new ones. It is hard decisions that are going to have to be made," she said.
A judge is expected to hear final arguments in the court battle with developers later this month, according to Lanny McInnes, president and CEO of the Manitoba Home Builders' Association.
"We feel the money should remain untouched until the court decision has been made and the city's authority has been clarified," McInnes said.
St. James Coun. Scott Gillingham, who chairs the city's standing policy committee on finance, agrees the impact fee money should remain in city coffers until the legal battle is resolved.
"I think it's the most prudent course of action at this point, is to not spend that money and leave it sitting aside in a reserve," he said.
"If the city has to pay those moneys out then it would be best, obviously, to have those moneys available [rather] than to have spent them."
There should be a decision from the judge on the impact fees this year, he said.
Meanwhile, Gillingham said the committee does plan to discuss the need for a fire hall as it works out the City of Winnipeg's budget for the next four years.
"I do appreciate there's a pressing need to get a fire hall built in Waverley West" he said, adding one potential solution could be to share the cost of a new fire hall with the nearby Rural Municipality of Macdonald.
The city will table its budget March 6.