Both the mayor of Brandon and the president of the Brandon Chamber of Commerce suggest a one per cent cut to the Provincial Sales Tax outlined in the 2019 provincial budget is a substantial benefit to Manitobans.
Manitoba Finance Minister Scott Fielding introduced this year’s provincial budget in the legislature on March 7, saying the Progressive Conservative government has focused on fixing provincial finances, repairing services and rebuilding the economy. A highlight of that plan according to local stakeholders is the PST moving from eight per cent to seven per cent as of July 1.
Brandon mayor Rick Chrest told the Westman Journal the budget contained a handful of items specific to Brandon, but the biggest for local residents – and all Manitobans – is the PST cut.
“This is good news for every resident of the province,” Chrest said on Friday. “I think people realize that the city, itself, is a consumer and a drop in the PST provides a significant savings.”
Chrest said the new tax rate – which falls between Saskatchewan’s PST at six per cent and Ontario’s portion of the Harmonized Sales Tax, which is eight per cent – could mean up to $325,000 per year in savings to the city’s operations and even more in the $65 million of capital work planned for Brandon.
Jeff Hood, president of the Brandon Chamber of Commerce, said the tax reduction is well-timed for the business community.
“The PST can become a substantial expense to most businesses and any extra little bit (of tax cuts) can help business right now,” he said. “It’s also good to hear there was no change to the business tax.”
Another item of interest cited by both the mayor and the chamber president was the budget’s $70 million in funding for reconstruction of the Daly Overpass on 18th Street. Chrest said the development of a new bridge there has been discussed for about a decade.
“About four years ago, through a bridge inspection program, we found there was significant deterioration to the 1st Street bridge, so it suddenly became a higher priority,” said Chrest.
“We set aside the 18th Street bridge to focus on the 1st Street bridge. Overall, this has sort of been 10 years in the making but at the end of the day, Brandon’s two major bridges will be renewed and good for decades to come.”
Among the budget’s other items specifically benefitting Brandon are a 12-bed expansion to the Brandon Regional Hospital and $1 million set aside for withdrawal beds here and in Winnipeg for people suffering from methamphetamine addictions. Another $2.3 million has been reserved for drug-related criminal activity surrounding methamphetamine and gang-related crime prevention projects.
Finally, $313.5 million in “basket funding” for municipal governments is expected to help with the ability of communities to finance local infrastructural needs, such as roads and bridges.
Although it was not presented as part of the budget, the provincial government announced $2.9 million in funding for the Keystone Centre on March 4, allowing the facility’s management to save about $300,000 per year by clearing debt. Hood said this, alongside the Daly Overpass project, will contribute to local business in a substantial way.
“The Keystone Centre is an integral part of the community and unfortunately, those kinds of facilities are not cheap to run,” Hood said. “We don’t get events like the (Tim Hortons) Brier if we don’t have the Keystone Centre and staying on top of the upkeep of these facilities is key to bringing these kinds of events to our community.”
Other highlights of Thursday’s provincial budget include:
• the capping of ambulance fees to $250 and funding for the hiring of more primary care paramedics;
• a $6.6 million increase to primary and secondary school funding and $56 million in capital funding for repair and improvements to educational infrastructure;
• an additional $325,000 for services aiding victims of domestic violence and organizations such as Brandon Victim Services;
• increased funding for the staffing of RCMP detachments in the province;
• $45 million for capital projects associated with Manitoba’s 150th anniversary;
• a plan to spend more than $1 billion on roads, bridges, water and wastewater projects, flood protection, hospitals, schools, universities and colleges.
Chrest said this year’s provincial budget was one of the better plans coming out of the Legislature in recent years.
“In the early times of this government, they were really trying to get their arms around the financial picture of the province and get it back in line,” he said. “I think they’re finally getting back to that. After three years with this government, I think they’ve got things figured out a bit and they can be more specific with what they want to do with their budget.”