Manitoba municipalities are vowing to campaign vigorously during the provincial election this fall for more money to fix the province’s crumbling infrastructure.
The Association of Manitoba Municipalities says it will unveil a strategy next month to lobby electioneering politicians for additional funding to upgrade roads, bridges, sewers and water utilities.
It’s the first time AMM has undertaken such direct involvement in an election to push for municipal infrastructure improvements, said president Doug Dobrowolski.
But the state of rural Manitoba’s roads, bridges and utilities is so poor that AMM is taking exceptional steps to highlight the situation, he said.
The Oct. 4 election result is expected to be close and so politicians may be more willing to listen than they normally might, said Dobrowolski.
AMM puts the province’s “infrastructure deficit” at $11 billion, or $10,000 for every Manitoban. That’s the amount of money the association says is needed to repair, upgrade or replace so-called “hard” infrastructure.
“We don’t expect it to be done in Year One. There’s got to be a plan in place, whether it’s a five-year plan or 10-year plan. At least let’s have a plan. Right now we don’t,” Dobrowolski said during a break in a recent AMM district meeting.
“We need to secure some sort of additional revenue for municipalities so they can get into a planning process and know what they can do.”
He said AMM will roll out its campaign strategy during an April 13-14 municipal officials seminar in Brandon.
The association decided on the action at a January board meeting and hired a consultant to assemble the strategy.
Dobrowolski declined to give details, saying they would be revealed at the April meeting.
AMM and the City of Winnipeg are also currently developing a report on possible ways to pay for infrastructure improvements.
The report, scheduled for completion by the end of March, will be used as part of a blueprint for the election campaign, said Dobrowolski.
In the past, AMM has suggested diverting one per cent of the seven per cent provincial sales tax toward infrastructure upgrades. That would raise $220 million annually for projects. However, the idea is a non-starter with the NDP government.
But Dobrowolski pointed out the Saskatchewan government recently made good on a two-year-old promise to give municipalities one per cent, or $260 million, of the province’s five per cent sales tax for infrastructure projects.
AMM plans to use this as a precedent to push for its own share of sales tax revenues, he said.
Another additional income source could be a greater share of VLT revenues. Dobrowolski said Manitoba municipalities currently receive 15 per cent of profits generated from VLTs.
Dobrowolski said municipalities badly need additional sources of revenue because otherwise they cannot pay for measures Ottawa and the province download on them.
Increased standards for municipal water and sewage treatment systems are one example. Municipalities have to comply but they receive no extra money to do it. So they either have to borrow the money or raise taxes, said Dobrowolski.
“We need to look at a new approach on how to fund infrastructure.” [email protected]
– DOUG DOBROWOLSKI, AMM