Another round of school tax increases now underway

Lorne Weiss, chair of the Manitoba Real Estate Association’s political action committee, said Winnipeg School Division’s proposed 2.3 per cent increase in its share of property taxes provides ample evidence that the existing education funding system is broken and needs to be fixed.

During the WinnipegREALTORS® 

Association’s monthly civic and legislative committee meeting, Weiss said statistics show that the province’s largest school 

division has increased property taxes in some neighbourhoods by as much as 56 per cent over the last three years.

Using the average house price within its borders of $79,564, the Winnipeg School Division said that this year’s proposed 2.3 per cent tax increase represents a $22 hike for a homeowner.

“I’m not sure where the average home of $79,000 is,” said Weiss, “But, the increase is higher in neighbourhoods like William Whyte where a home valued at only $29,400 (2003 city assessment on  home on Alfred Avenue) will  see the owner pay $132 more in property taxes this year — a 56 per cent increase — when compared to three years ago.”

According to figures provided by the WinnipegREALTORS® Association, the three-year increase on a three-bedroom bungalow on Ellington Avenue in Tyndall Park, assessed by the city at $107,900 in 2003, is 20 per cent. That means the school property tax bill has risen by $229. 

On Elmwood’s Government Avenue, the increase on a three-bedroom bungalow assessed at $87,200 in 2003 is 13 per cent, a property tax hike of $129 over three years.

Weiss said homeowners are not receiving the property tax relief promised to them by the province when it eliminated its own property tax that it had used to help fund education. The Doer government phased out its education special levy (ESL) over four years. The ESL was eliminated last year.

Over the same period, school divisions across the province have been making up the difference by raising their  share of property taxes.

“The ESL was eliminated and the 

rebate system on farmland (now 60 per cent of the total school tax bill) to relieve some of the pressure on Manitobans caused by the burden of property taxes,” commented Weiss. 

“We thought the phasing out of the ESL was a step in the right direction, unfortunately the government’s hands-off policy on overseeing school board budgets meant that school divisions swallowed up those those reductions as fast as they were made,” he added.

Weiss, along with Peter Squire, 

the public relations director of the 

WinnipegREALTORS® Association, appeared at Winnipeg School Divisions’ 2007-08 budget meeting last Monday evening to express concerns about the imposition of annual tax increases on homeowners by trustees.

MREA and the WinnipegREALTORS® Association are members of a province-wide coalition of groups and organizations, such as the Keystone Agricultural Producers, representing about 250,000 Manitobans, who are lobbying the Manitoba government to eliminate education funding from property taxes. 

Since education is a societal benefit like health care, the coalition is proposing that education also be funded through provincial general revenues. They are proposing that the changeover take place over a five-year period to allow the province to adjust its funding system.

“Manitoba REALTORS® along with the coalition are committed to the fact that education is a priority, and should be funded by all Manitobans because it 

benefits all Manitobans,” added Weiss.

Weiss said the problem of school taxes funding education is exemplified by Winnipeg School Division. The division’s property tax mill rate is now 10 per cent higher than the city’s for all the services it delivers, such as police, fire and garbage pickup.

Weiss said the coalition will be meeting after the province delivers its budget to determine future actions.

The coalition is still in the midst of its campaign, which is urging ratepayers to visit the website and then e-mail letters to Premier Gary Doer and Finance Minister Greg Selinger to change the education funding system.MREA has reported that over 2,000 letters have already been sent to the premier and finance minister.