RM budget for 2019: “Spending held in check”

Provincial Tories criticized for policies

The RM of Wallace-Woodworth introduced its financial plan last week, keeping spending in check and maintaining the municipality’s mill rate at last year’s level, says Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Garth Mitchell.

Many ratepayers will remember the effect of a property assessment on last year’s budget, when farm land values increased almost 41 per cent, leading to a significant tax increase.

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No such nasty surprises are in this year’s financial plan as the next property reassessment isn’t until 2020. But as Mitchell pointed out at the April 25 public hearing in the RM’s board room, “Farmland has stayed high and I don’t see any major drops in their assessment.”

In fact, he believes Assessment Services may target personal property for their next bi-annual reassessment in 2020 as “the next ones that may not be real happy with us for the next one. There may be a larger increase on them.”

With steadier property values this year, the RM was able to hold its general municipal tax rate to last year’s 14.758 mills.

With the RM’s spending held in check for 2019, Mitchell reflected on projects that were completed last year which allowed for a shifting of expenses between departments. For example, the civic addressing project was completed so more of the budget can be spread around to other projects. But in general, he calls this a “quiet year” for new projects.  

PROVINCE SCOLDED

The tone of the hearing shifted when Mitchell took on several actions by the Manitoba Conservative government that he says will have a negative effect on rural communities.

The Province has changed the Education Property Tax Credit resulting in a significant property tax increase for 7 taxpayers in Wallace-Woodworth who own smaller, lower-assessed homes.

Mitchell says this is “one of the more negative things we’ve had to present at a financial planning meeting.”

Despite objections and lobbying, the government stood firm in its position to eliminate the credit, which Mitchell says will hit those who can least afford it: seniors and those on a fixed income. “Some will see sizable increases of up to $450 but the average will be $211.”

Mitchell used his budget podium to urge citizens to contact their MLA and complain, because, “I think they made a mistake trying to balance the budget on the shoulders of those citizens.” (He points out that all other taxpayers in the RM will see minimal or no change in their taxes for 2019.)

BASKET CASE

Mitchell also took Brian Pallister’s government to task for a change coming next year, the so-called “basket funding”. Instead of funding individual programs, the province will give municipalities a lump sum based on population thresholds.

“The Province says, ‘It’s up to you guys how you spend your basket of money’. So bridges, recreation programs, it’s all in the same basket…. Once they get everything in the basket, they can say ‘we’re going to freeze your basket or cut funding to it.’”

Next year’s RM budget will reveal just how big a challenge the basket approach will pose for council and administration.

WATER

The 2019 RM budget includes a list of 10 proposed water-related projects that can only happen with provincial or federal infrastructure funding - projects like wellsite renewal at the water source near Miniota, a lagoon upgrade for Elkhorn, and line work needed in Kola.

But Mitchell is concerned about a lack of provincial support for the agency that provides funding for projects like that because the Province “clawed back” the budget of the Manitoba Water Services Board last year.

“They made a big announcement this year saying they put more money in but they still haven’t got us back to the dollar level of 2017.”

After the financial plan hearing wrapped up, council took a break and reconvened to give second and third readings to pass the 2019 budget for a total expenditure of $5.9 million.  

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