Municipale funding-freeze could lead to higher taxes or service cuts, says AMM

The leader of Manitoba’s official opposition vowed this week that an NDP government would put an end to a municipal funding freeze that has now been in effect since 2016, and the head of the Association of Manitoba Municipalities (AMM) says putting an end to that freeze is something that is needed now more than ever.

While addressing officials at the AMM Fall Convention in Winnipeg on Tuesday, NDP Leader Wab Kinew told municipal politicians and officials that a current funding freeze for municipalities that has been in place for seven years needs to end and that it would end if the NDP were elected to lead the province.

Kinew said while the cost of living and the cost of running a municipality and offering municipal services continues to rise in Manitoba, communities aren’t seeing increased funding from the province to offset those increased costs.

“The PCs have frozen operating funds to municipalities for seven years, meaning municipalities are tackling 2022 costs and new inflationary pressures with 2016 levels of funding,” Kinew said in a statement relased after he addressed those at the convention on Tuesday.

While the province has supplemented funding with support for some specific municipal projects since 2016, Kinew said he has heard from officials that the only way to adequately fund municipalities is to put an end to the funding freeze.

“The freeze has forced municipalities to cut essential services and scale back on services that matter to families. Municipal operations that contribute to our sense of community like recreation facilities, have been forced to limit hours or close altogether because of staffing challenges,” he said.

Kinew also worries that without increased funding, communities could be more prone to emergencies such as flooding that can cause property damage, and put residents in harm’s way.

“Municipalities are struggling to maintain culverts and ditches which is making flooding more threatening around the province to homes, and to farms and infrastructure,” Kinew said. “For seven years, the PCs have abandoned families and communities and left it to municipal leaders to try and fill the gaps.

“Enough is enough.”

AMM president Kam Blight, who also serves as the mayor of the RM of Portage la Prairie, said on Wednesday that every official he has talked to at this week’s AMM convention agrees that the funding freeze cannot continue.

“The operating freeze is something that has come up in every single conversation that I have had this week,” Blight said. “There has been a seven-year funding freeze, but now with the rates of inflation we continue to have to do more with less, so we want to see some positive changes on that.”

And if the funding freeze does not end, Blight said he worries that more municipalities will be forced to raise taxes or cut services.

“Without increased funding increased taxation is the only way you have to increase your revenue, or the other option is to cut services, or a combination of both,” Blight said. “And no municipal leaders want to do that, and no residents want to see that in their communities.”

Municipal Relations Minister Eileen Clarke took questions from municipal officials at this week’s AMM Fall Convention, and said publicly on Tuesday the province does want to work on creating what she said would be a “new funding model.”

“I did make a commitment to president Blight in the spring that I would make it a priority to work on a funding model that would be more acceptable to the municipalities and perhaps meet some of the additional demands," Clarke said on Tuesday.

“We are working on it, and hopefully when the budget comes out in 2023, there will be news to follow.”

— Dave Baxter is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

Dave Baxter, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Sun