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At annual convention, municipalities speak and province listens

November 30 saw delegates from all over rural Manitoba converge on the Keystone Centre in Brandon for the annual convention of the Association of Manitoba Municipalities (AMM).

Premier Wab Kinew addressed the attendees, inviting them into a more level relationship with his party going forward.

While forming his government, he said, he’d received some sage advice on working with municipal leaders.

“This person said, if you want to get things done—economic development, healthcare—you need to change the way the province deals with municipalities,” Kinew said. “And you need to start treating municipalities like a serious order of government, and show them respect, on the same level that you treat your own government and other levels of government. That’s what our team fully intends to do.”

In readiness for the premier’s visit, the AMM created a cabinet brief. Essentially, it read like a wish list of items the AMM would like to see from the provincial government in the coming year.

Fair Share of Tax Revenue

First and foremost, municipalities are asking the province for their fair share of tax revenues.

“Municipalities rely on property taxes to generate revenues while being responsible for 60 percent of public infrastructure and only receiving less than 10 cents of every tax dollar to complete the job,” the brief states.

As well, the AMM asked the province to consider providing a more equitable share of PST revenues. In 2017, they pointed out, the tax revenue share provided to municipalities was repealed by the province.

Today, the AMM is asking the government to consider rebating the more than $25 million in PST paid on an annual basis by municipalities.

Municipalities would also like to receive a cut of the cannabis taxation revenue.

“Since the legalization of cannabis, municipalities have been on the front lines in local communities where cannabis is legally produced, sold, and consumed. However, no funding support has been provided to Manitoba municipalities.

In this case, the AMM is asking the province to work together with municipal leaders to develop a fair revenue sharing model.

Public Safety

According to a research poll commissioned by the AMM this past summer, only five percent of Manitobans feel safer in their community than they did three years ago, while 56 percent feel decidedly less safe.

At least in part, rising crime rates are behind those numbers. They say this is connected to a revolving door of criminals being released by the courts back into local communities.

“Municipalities have been ringing the alarm on increasing crime rates in their communities since the prairie provinces experience higher rates of rural crime compared to other areas of the country,” states the brief. “Frontline police officers are becoming less visible in local communities as they deal with increased administration-type work or participate in court hearings related to repeat offenders.”

To begin remedying this situation, the AMM has called for the province to increase municipal police funding. As well, they are asking the province to put extra pressure on the federal government to implement tougher bail protocols for repeat offenders and prioritize spending on programs designed to reduce crime.

First Responders and Doctor Recruitment

In recent years, despite first responder shortages, the College of Paramedics of Manitoba (CPMB) has made it more difficult for emergency volunteers to opt into the first responder program.

According to the AMM, Manitoba’s fees to take the training are the highest in Canada and the training hour requirements have nearly tripled from a year ago.

To address this, the AMM is asking the NDP government to establish a Medical First Response service-delivery model that acts independently of the CPMB framework.

Similar staffing shortages are being felt across all levels of medical professional staff, especially in rural areas.

The AMM wants the government to expedite their plan to recruit and retain health professionals. As well, they’d like the province to accelerate credential recognition and increase regional settlement incentives for foreign-trained doctors and other professionals.

A Modernization of Education Funding

The AMM brief expressed support of the mandate laid out by the previous Progressive Conservative government to phase out education property taxes over the next few years. However, they would like to see a new funding model created that is equitable and provides long-term sustainability.

The AMM also recommends rescinding the $5,000 school tax rebate cap for Manitoba farmland.

Brenda Sawatzky, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Niverville Citizen