Manitoba

Winnipeg councillor wants time out on tax rebates for True North

The city needs to reconsider its practice of funneling tax rebates back to Winnipeg’s professional sports teams, Russ Wyatt says.

'I really hope that common sense prevails,' says Coun. Wyatt, who wants money put into city services

Transcona Coun. Russ Wyatt says money from tax rebates going back to professional sports teams should be instead going into city services. (CBC)

The city needs to reconsider its practice of funneling tax rebates back to Winnipeg's professional sports teams, Russ Wyatt says.

During a city council meeting on Wednesday, the Transcona councillor raised concerns about $6.4 million a year in entertainment tax rebates being given back to True North Sports and Entertainment.

"We shouldn't be giving a massive subsidy like this because it smacks of that old expression 'corporate welfare bums' and that's really what that is," Wyatt said.

An additional $232,000 in business tax rebates goes back to the organization annually, he added.​

Wyatt said the amount of money going back to sports organizations would equate to a 1½ per cent property tax increase for Winnipeg homeowners. He believes the money should instead be going back into core city services and infrastructure, Wyatt said.

"Whether it be keeping pools open…. Whether it be ensuring street sweeping takes place; these are some of the basic things the city is not doing well and has cut over the years."

Wyatt said the agreement with True North goes back to when the MTS Centre was being built.

Marty Morantz, the city's finance chair, said he wants more information about the nature of the deal from public services and will be briefed on the rebate next week.

"I don't think it would be right for me to try and second guess decisions that were made many years ago by other councillors based on information they had at the time," Morantz said.

"If it is the case they entered into a long-term agreement, from the city's perspective, we are contractually bound."

It isn't only True North who is on the receiving end of tax rebates.

The Winnipeg Football club  (Blue Bombers) and The Winnipeg Goldeyes are also getting kickbacks, Wyatt said. All together, a total of $8.5 million is going back to Winnipeg's professional teams in rebates, which is equivalent to about a two per property tax increase, Wyatt said.

Wyatt said he hopes council, Mayor Brian Bowman, the city's finance committee and executive policy committee will reconsider the rebates.

"I really hope that common sense prevails — both on the part of the private sector, True North and the City of Winnipeg," Wyatt said. "I would understand that if they can't do it overnight, they can't do it overnight, but maybe they can phase it out over the next few years."

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