Latest provincial flood relief pledges “smoke and mirrors,” fumes St. Laurent reeve

There are demands that province compensate 100 per cent for flood damage 
caused by “unnatural” increased flows from the Portage Diversion

A new one-time tax credit announced by the province to relieve the financial burden on municipalities around Lake Manitoba is not enough for at least one RM ravaged by flooding last year.

“This tax credit is inadequate. It doesn’t even come close to bridging the financial deficit we’re facing in this municipality due to the disaster,” said Earl Zotter, reeve of St. Laurent.

The RM’s tax assessment has plunged from $67 million to $49 million, he added. Shoring up the gap in lost tax revenue would cost $400,000, but the province is only offering $57,000 under the tax credit program.

Without an increase in provincial aid, the tax burden must be shifted from affected areas to unaffected areas such as farmland further inland from the lake.

Zotter’s council is demanding that the province pay the full cost of the damage suffered by the municipality, because in his view, the disaster was “unnatural” due to increased flows into the lake from the Portage Diversion and the fact that an outlet capable of compensating for that flow has never been dug.

“Everybody knows what needs to be done,” he said, referring to the chorus of calls from lake residents for a second drain outlet from Watchorn Bay to Lake St. Martin.

As for the eight new appraisers and 14 more staff hired to process flood claims, Zotter calls it “smoke and mirrors.”

“Take the flood of 1997, it was in excess of five years before they dealt with all the cases, and there was one-third less cases than last year,” he said.

“I have very little faith that it’s going to do anything positive for our people.”

Zotter also expressed irritation at what he claimed was an effort to keep him away from the assembled media at the provincial legislature when the new measures were announced at a press conference May 7.

“They were afraid that I was going to ruin their press release day, because I was going to tell them exactly how it wasn’t going to help us,” he said. “They wanted me out of there so badly.”

Pam Sul, CAO of Alonsa RM, said her council is still trying to figure out how the grant will work for them. Last year, the RM got $168,000 to compensate for lost tax revenue on flooded properties. Its entire west shore was damaged, with a number of evacuees.

This year, the total grant to alleviate the burden on unflooded property amounts to about $7,000 in the municipality of 1,270 people.

“We’re still not sure how it’s going to work, so we’re not sure whether to be happy about it or not,” said Sul.

She added that council is hopeful the new staff will speed up the claims process for individuals.

“One lady said that she’s had four different adjusters out in the last three days: one for fences, one for buildings, and one for land.”

Infrastructure and Transportation Minister Steve Ashton, who is the minister responsible for emergency measures, said in a press release that the 2011 flood marks the largest recovery effort Manitoba has taken on since 1950 and will cost $1 billion.

“It’s going to be a multi-year process,” he stated. “These new staff will help keep things moving forward and join the more than 100 people already working to process claims for flood-affected families.”

So far, more than 30,000 flood claims have been filed, triple the number of the 1997 flood, and the province has paid out more than $650 million in compensation to flood-affected Manitobans.

The one-time grant for a municipal tax credit to relieve some of the financial burden on municipalities in flood-damaged regions applies to the RMs of Alonsa, Ochre River, Siglunes, St. Laurent, Grahamdale, Coldwell and Lawrence.

The announcement last week included a new commitment to cover 90 per cent of the $1.7-million cost for the City of Brandon’s flood preparation work done in advance of the 2011 flood.

Ashton added that the province has already committed to helping people living around the lake flood-proof their farms, homes and cottages including covering the majority of the costs of raising, moving or diking their structures.

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