Just days before the provincial election, the Pallister Conservatives made an announcement that set off alarm bells at Fort La Bosse School Division (FLBSD) in Virden.
They announced that if re-elected they would do away with the education portion of property taxes. That’s the part that shows up on your property tax bill every year and goes to local schools.
Since last year, the division has been publicly warning against such a move saying it would lead to “a very significant increase” in taxes for school divisions and a loss of local control over programs (even though the PC announcement promises to save an average Winnipeg homeowner $2,000 annually).
Fort La Bosse’s Board of Trustees chairperson Garry Draper says their fears will come to pass if divisions lose their ability to levy school taxes though local property taxes.
“It was one of our fears last year that if we lose our taxing ability, we lose our decision-making power.”
Draper feels going to a provincial funding model “will restrict our ability to respond to our community’s needs. Everything will have to go through a budget process in Winnipeg.”
He also questions how the province will make up for lost funding if money from property taxes is no longer available.
In his announcement, Pallister said the money would come from “general revenues” but didn’t specify how general revenues will absorb a loss of millions of dollars. Draper said the government’s proposal won’t save money, only change the way it’s collected.
But newly-elected MLA for Riding Mountain Greg Nesbitt (PC) stands by his leader’s policy promise.
He says the provincial government will be able to offset the $80 to $90 million they would need each year to eliminate school property taxes by managing its money and growing the economy.
“There will be no changes to how education is funded until the provincial budget is balanced,” said Nesbitt, “And then the removal of property taxes will happen over a 10-year time frame.”
“This announcement was about how money will be delivered to school divisions for educational purposes, not about taking away decision-making powers that are now in the hands of local elected school trustees.”
FLBSD trustees and administration have reviewed school funding in other provinces where the government collects all education taxes instead of the school board, and they believe it leads to a loss of control over how dollars are used in local schools.
Draper has also predicted that the low mill rate Fort La Bosse currently enjoys would disappear, blended into a single, across-the-board provincial mill rate. And that, he says, means taxpayers would see “a very significant increase” in taxes.