Three years after a special services levy was tabled for the L.U.D. of Gretna, the proposal is back and has undergone a second public hearing.
Under the proposal, presently exempt properties like schools and churches would fall subject to the levy in an effort to have more users share in the cost of local services like street lighting and fire protection.
Harold Schlegel, Executive Director of Mennonite Collegiate Institute (MCI), presented at Wednesday's public hearing, three years after his last appearance before the proposal was put on hold.
"We want to affirm that MCI wants to be a good neighbour in the community of Gretna," he said. "We want to see the community thrive, want to be a part of that thriving community and we want to work together on mutually beneficial goals. A healthy Gretna and a healthy MCI go together."
However, Schlegel explained the proposed levy poses some difficulties for the school - a similar case made during the first public hearing back in 2019.
"We would see our property taxes increase nearly one thousand percent in the course of one year. Very few organizations could handle that large of an increase in so short of a time," he said. "If there is a way for us to step up and contribute more to the health and well-being of Gretna, we want to do that, but moving from six thousand dollars to sixty thousand dollars in taxes is simply unbearable for us at this time."
In fact, Schlegel stated at the public hearing that such a large tax increase could very well cause MCI to no longer be a part of the community at all.
"Council heard that and will have to take it under advisement, but we left it at that," said Rhineland Reeve Don Wiebe. "It's a bit of a difficult thing to look at from Council's perspective. You want to pursue this aspect of fairness, but that's the situation they're in and it doesn't change," he added, referring to the school's lower-than-ideal enrolment numbers over the last few years. "What's the future for them if the future doesn't change? So, that's another question." Wiebe also posed this question regarding solving that recruitment and enrolment issue. "But is that Council's problem, or is that the school's problem? There's a bit of a debate on that."
Administrators and the MCI Board of Directors are hoping to find a solution to the special services levy that is mutually agreeable, noted Schlegel. One suggestion made at the public hearing was an incremental increase that would allow the school to better absorb the added expense.
Laverne Siemens, Chair of the Gretna Bergthaler Church Council, echoed that suggestion.
"We're in a position right now where our attendance isn't growing. We're at a lower number as well from where we were years ago. And so, it makes it that much tougher for us to meet all of those obligations," he said.
"We certainly want to be seen as a good resident of the L.U.D. of Gretna. We want to pay our fair share, and we realize that our taxes have been very low historically over the years," added Siemens. "But with this sort of increase that could be up to a thousand percent, that's a bit hard to take."
Again, the future of both of these institutions is one of the factors Council will consider moving forward, said Wiebe.
"The options are - do we go forward full bore? Do we find some way of modifying it a bit? Do we postpone it again? We had a fair bit of discussion on those issues, and we thought it was best that we take our time with that," explained Wiebe.
The hope, added Wiebe, is to implement the special services levy for the 2023 tax year. He expects Council will reach a decision within the month.