City passes motion calling for school tax change

Winnipeg city council has passed a motion calling upon the province “to 

remove the mill rate for the education support levy and the special levy” from the city’s municipal property tax bill.

The council motion proposes that the province fund education through its general revenues.

The motion was passed by a 9-5 vote. Among those voting against the motion was Mayor Sam Katz, who said he understands the concern over school taxes, but the issue is beyond the jurisdiction of city council so it is meaningless.

“Clearly councillors at the city of Winnipeg like the hundreds of Manitobans we hear from every day, realize that the province cannot continue to fund education on the backs of property owners,” said Lorne Weiss, the chair of the Manitoba Real Estate Association’s political action committee.

Weiss said there is strength in numbers when approaching the Doer government to implement change, especially with a new provincial budget scheduled for April 4. He hopes the new budget will reflect the coalition's message.

The MREA and the WinnipegREALTORS® Association are members of the Education Financing Coalition, which represents about 250,000 Manitobans through 40 organizations and groups such as seniors, the Manitoba and Winnipeg chambers of commerce and the Keystone Agricultural Producers.

The coalition has been lobbying the provincial government to have property taxes funding education phased out over a five-year period.

Weiss and coalition members earlier appeared at city hall to urge councillors to join the city of Brandon in proposing the province change its method of funding education. A year ago, Brandon council passed a resolution calling upon the province to fund education from 

general revenues.

It is also the time of year when school boards announce their budgets, Weiss added.

Winnipeg School Division, Manitoba’s largest, has announced a 2.3 per cent in its share of property taxes. The 

division said this translates into a $22 hike on the average $79,564 house.

“I’m not sure where the average home of $79,000 is,” said Weiss, adding that the increase is higher in specific neighbourhoods.

Weiss explained that a home on Ellington Street in Tyndall Park assessed by the city at $107,900 will see the owner’s taxes to the school division go up by 20 per cent, which represents a $229 increase over the last three years.

Weiss said city council has for 10 years frozen its share of property taxes and all this work to keep the tax burden down is undone when school boards across the city raise their taxes.

The province eliminated its education special levy (ESL) on residential property and cut school taxes on farmland by 60 per cent.

“We thought the phasing out of of the ESL was a step in the right direction,” said Weiss, “unfortunately ... school divisions swallowed up those reductions as fast as they were made.”

The increases  mean that school taxes now account for 53 per cent of a homeowners’ property tax bill, he added. 

Manitoba’s school boards collect $732 million in property taxes each year. 

Municipalities across Manitoba are required by law to collect property taxes on behalf of school divisions. In Manitoba, over one-third of education funding comes from property taxes taken from homes, businesses and farmland. 

Education Minister Peter Bjornson recently announced that the province has told Manitoba’s school boards to keep their tax increases down by using surplus funds they have accumulated or the province will restrict their ability to raise taxes. 

Under pressure from school trustees, Bjornson said the directive won’t come into effect for another year in order to allow school boards time to adjust.

Meanwhile, the Education Financing Coalition’s website has generated over 2,000 letters to the education minister and premier asking them to change the way education is funded.