While Brandon City Council is fighting like cats and dogs to keep its budget within reason — after last year’s debacle — it appears the Brandon School Division is about to unleash its own hound on the taxpayers of this fine community.
With a proposed mill rate increase of 8.5 per cent, the Brandon School Division may have one of the highest school property tax hikes in the province next year. In fact, CBC Manitoba is reporting we have the highest proposed rate increase.
Fantastic — another blow to the Wheat City’s image.
As reported in the Brandon Sun this week, if both the city’s and school division’s 2013 tentative budgets get passed as is this spring, a homeowner with a property assessed at $200,000 is looking at forking over an additional $134 on their property taxes.
That’s a bi-weekly car payment for many folks. Or a week’s groceries. Or some cash that could simply be salted away for a rainy day.
It also borders on an act of looting by the Brandon School Division.
But they have a partner in crime, and that’s the Province of Manitoba.
The Selinger NDP government has dictated smaller K-3 class sizes in the future (meaning more classrooms and more teachers), and also has over the years turned the public school system into a branch of Manitoba Health by placing children with severe debilitating disabilities who need to be babysat all day by educational assistants.
The poor kids and youth — some of whom are very violent — even have to have their diapers changed at school by an EA of either gender. Some of the schools aren’t properly designed for this role and if the sidewalks haven’t been shovelled, the EAs are often seen carrying children into the school in their wheelchairs.
Then there’s the Brandon Teachers’ Association with its ultra-rich contract, which of course supports smaller classes, more teachers and more EAs.
It’s Jane and Joe Public who are the big losers here.
The province tries to blame the school board for being imprudent managers of the public purse. But those are the same folks who are encouraging immigration, which puts a whole new level of strain with kids who can’t speak English attending our schools in the English as an Additional Language program.
“For the second year in a row, Brandon is getting one of the largest increases in the province,” said Education Minister Nancy Allan earlier this month.
Sorry Minister Allan, the education system is broken and Brandon taxpayers are paying through the nose simply to keep it barely afloat.
Harvey Douglas, vice-president of the Western Manitoba Seniors Non-Profit Housing Co-operative Ltd., told the Sun that kind of increase by the BSD will be difficult for people with low to moderate incomes.
“That’s a lot of money for a senior to make up, when they don’t have anything else other than a fixed income,” Douglas said. “We’re all subject as we get older to more bills for medications and more things that happen that way, and it’s just getting tougher and tougher for the average moderate-income citizen to survive.”
City hall figured out pretty quickly last year that citizens won’t stand for huge budget jumps. While some of that was politically motivated against the new mayor and her regime, this year the same group came in with a tentative general mill rate increase of 0.98 per cent. Job well done.
Then there’s the round-table circus on Sixth Street and its proposed mill rate increase of 8.5 per cent.
Many property owners — especially those who have chosen not to have children — are outraged. Even a city official raised her eyebrows when she learned of the BSD’s tax hike.
Val Rochelle, the city’s director of finance, said she was surprised to hear of the 8.5 per cent mill rate increase from the school division.
“The last little while, it’s been said to be 5.5 (per cent increase),” she said. “My thoughts were that they would bring it down, so I am quite surprised.”
After a full day of deliberations Tuesday, Brandon School Division trustees approved $2,352,000 in new money to its tentative budget.
Board chair Mark Sefton said the trustees made some tough decisions paring down the more than $4.6 million in new asks to the $2.352-million figure — about 51 per cent of what was asked for was approved in the $87-million operating budget.
“I believe it is a significant reduction,” Sefton said. “We believe we did the best thing we could for the students in the division.”
In total, 32.2 new positions were created within the division, a little more than half of the 57 positions requested.
“There are people that would not have been satisfied with anything less than a tax freeze,” Sefton said. “We know that there are people in a tough spot and we get that. The reality is we did the best we could to try to balance those concerns with what we see are the needs of the students.”
In an attempt to spin her way out of a problem, Education Minister Nancy Allan earlier this month blithely said Brandon ratepayers are actually in a good position.
“This is a growing school division and Brandon is a very vibrant community, and this is a really good problem to have so we’ve been working with the Brandon School Division all along to provide infrastructure funding as well as providing more funding,” Allan told the Sun after her funding announcement.
She also suggested Brandon was being too aggressive to meet her class cap goal. A typical position taken by this NDP government. Just wait until the last moment, then panic.
On Wednesday, of course Allan wasn’t available for comment, so her spokesperson, Naline Rampersad, offered this gem: “We are giving Brandon School Division the tools to keep taxes affordable while continuing to invest in the classroom. We expect them to exercise restraint.”
Keep in mind it took a public tax revolt to knock some sense into the mayor and city councillors last year.
A public consultation meeting is set for March 4 at 7 p.m. at the Brandon School Division office, with the board voting on the tentative budget on March 11. We suggest you express you concerns or be prepared to open your wallets. Your choice.
If the BSD makes some deep cuts, the cries could be heard on Broadway.