TURTLE MOUNTAIN PROVINCIAL PARK — Cottagers are largely accepting the increased service fees they saw when they opened their bills this week, but some are leery of how high they will go in the future.
"I think we’ve been getting off pretty luckily for quite a few years," said Miles Phillips of Boissevain, who owns an island cottage on Max Lake, which is nestled within Turtle Mountain Provincial Park.
This year, Phillips will pay $513, up from $409 last year, which he said doesn’t include road maintenance, garbage and docking fees.
"I’m not concerned about the increase this year, but if it’s going to an increase every year ... it could get fairly hefty."
The province says service fees for park cottagers have been frozen for a decade and only collects $1.7 million in fees from cottagers to cover service costs. The estimated cost of services for cottagers is more than $4 million.
Phillips said many improvements are needed at Max Lake — chief of which being the entrance road to the marina and the parking lot — and while he’s fine with paying more, he expects results.
"I don’t mind paying more, but I expect to get a little bit more too."
Along with the invoice to approximately 6,500 cottage owners is word the province will phase in, starting in 2018, a new property-value assessment model for cottagers inside Manitoba's provincial parks — a system based on how cottagers outside provincial parks are taxed by municipalities.
"I don’t quite know how they’re going to do that," Phillips said, adding his property’s worth lies in the land only and not in his modestly-sized, 52-year-old cottage.
"My cottage isn’t worth that much ... someone would buy my cottage for say $100,000 and they’d probably knock it down and build a big new cottage there."
Driving the change is a concern among many park cottagers that the current fee system does not adequately distinguish between well-kept cottages, essentially year-round homes with insulated garages and older cottages that have had few improvements since they were built decades ago.
Ross Wilkinson, whose primary residence is a home on Bower Lake inside that area’s cottage area, also said he’s fine with the increase, but again is concerned how long the province will hike up fees.
He is set to pay $940 to the province this year for snow removal and garbage services, significantly less than a friend living on George Lake across Highway 10, who pays about $2,500 to the RM of Morton.
"I don’t really say too much about what we pay because it’s so damn cheap," Wilkinson said.
Conservation and Water Stewardship Minister Gord Mackintosh said the new appraisal system, which is still to be developed, was approved by cabinet last week.
"The dream of cottage life in Manitoba is one that must be sustainable and that means sustainable financially so that the services that we provide can continue into the future," he said.
Also approved by cabinet is a $3,000 cap on park service fees and land rent this year, which will be maintained for the next three years. To ensure all numbers are correct, spot appraisals are being done in the event any adjustments have to be made. Cottagers who believe their rent assessment is unfair can counter with their own certified appraisal for an adjustment.
» firstname.lastname@example.org, with files from the Winnipeg Free Press