Municipalities plan a grassroots campaign this summer to make sure the needs of small towns and rural municipalities aren’t forgotten as candidates for the fall election start making election promises.
All 197 local governments are asked to pass resolutions that lay out their specific infrastructure needs, with price tag attached and make other community groups such as chambers of commerce aware of it. Councils are also urged to engage local media.
A united and sustained message that new revenue sources are needed must come from rural communities and their cash-strapped councils, said AMM president Doug Dobrowolski.
Local councils heard details of Association of Manitoba Municipalities’ “Put Communities First” campaign this week during June district meetings across Manitoba.
“Our strength is in numbers,” said Dobrowolski. “We need to tell our provincial leaders we’re just not keeping up with the current dollars that we’re getting, through the tax dollars and the grants that we’re getting.”
The association itself has made infrastructure funding its No. 1 priority issue but sees a need for councils to talk specifics if this issue is to get on the radar screen, he said.
AMM estimates about $7.5 billion of the province’s total $11 billion provincial infrastructure deficit is outside the city of Winnipeg. Total municipal taxes – the only revenue available to municipal-level government – raise less than a billion a year, yet it must cover all operational costs.
That’s why councils cannot fix hard infrastructure such as aging water systems and local roads and bridges, let alone create the new services and amenities sought by local rural residents.
This is the first time the AMM has created a deliberate strategy to raise municipal needs in an election, Dobrowolski said. It’s because the issue can’t be ignored any longer.
“There are still 88 boil-water advisories in communities,” said Dobrowolski. “It should be a no-brainer that there should be clean water in communities.”
This campaign also hopes to build alliances with local citizens and community groups so that RM and town residents will also join the municipal rally cry.
The shortfall affects everyone who lives in rural Manitoba, Dobrowolski said.
“They’re the ones who use these day-to-day services. We need grassroots help to bring this forward,” Dobrowolski said.
While “hard” infrastructure funding is most critical, municipalities are also concerned about continued neglect of so-called social infrastructure, such as libraries and recreation centres whose upgrades and repairs can’t be done.
Leaders acknowledge that the provincial Community Places Program grants have helped but many applications exceed the maximum allowable grant, especially when it comes to upgrading to better environmental standards.
Other impacts of lack of cash for social infrastructure include the extreme shortage of child care spaces in rural areas.
Meanwhile, new systems of estimating garbage tonnage for smaller landfills and escalating costs of policing services add to local council’s mounting bills.
Dobrowolski said the specific “ask” is for a larger share of tax revenues to go back to local government, including revisiting the AMM’s proposal of one per cent of existing provincial sales tax, which could annually add an additional $239 million.
This is also a lobby to eliminate provincial sales tax charged on municipal purchases of goods and services, which would raise several million more.
“We feel it’s wrong that one level of government is taxing another level of government,” said Dobrowolski.
Ultimately, this is about making sure the needs of communities don’t get overlooked as we go to polls this fall, he said.
“During elections it seems all you ever hear about is health care and education costs. You hear about urban things. But you don’t hear the core municipal issues that need to be talked about.
“We want an honest discussion and some commitment from the provincial leaders on what they would do if they formed government.” [email protected]
“Weneedtotellour provincialleaderswe’re justnotkeepingupwith thecurrentdollarsthat we’regetting,throughthe taxdollarsandthegrants thatwe’regetting.”
– AMM PRESIDENT DOUG DOBROWOLSKI