For the third straight year, the City of Thompson has seen a drop in dollars from the province in Rural Community Development (VLT) grant video lottery terminal (VLT) revenue.
The first payment for 2012 of $86,058.27 was just received and a second payment is expected on Sept. 30, to bring the total expected amount to $172,117. The expected amount falls $81,540 short of the city-budgeted projected amount of $253,657. This decline is a direct result the census drop in 2011, as well as a drop in the amount paid per capita.
Mayor Tim Johnston and some members of council are beginning to get fed up with this apparent imbalance and say that it's time they start playing hardball.
Feel free to grab a pen and paper to do some of the number crunching along the way, as there are a lot of figures and percentages involved.
According to Manitoba Lotteries, in 2007/08 $296.8 million was given to the province through VLT revenues. From that $296.8 million, $60.4 million was donated back into Manitoba municipalities in the form of unconditional grants. The percentage of VLT revenue coming back to municipalities was around 20.4 per cent.
Thompson houses 162 VLTs, and it is estimated that each VLT takes in around $800 daily. Over the course of the year, this adds up to about $47.3 million.
Given the 2007/08 figure of $296.8 million, Thompson would be responsible for around 16 per cent of the province's revenue; you must however remember that 20 per cent of the VLT revenue is kept by the businesses that house them, so the total to the province would actually be $37.8 million or around 13 per cent.
Take a second to digest those numbers because here is where things get a bit strange, and what has likely led to the mayor and council's frustration.
Thompson will receive $172,117 this year from VLT revenue; assuming that the total doled out by the province is consistent with the past figure of around $60 million, that would mean Thompson receives just short of 0.3 per cent of the revenues, revenues that they are 13 per cent responsible for. As mentioned however, there was a drop in the amount paid per capita this year.
“This is absolutely staggering to me how much we are being short changed,” said Johnston via telephone at an Aug. 13 regular meeting of council, “there are communities in this province that don't have VLTs that continue to get the grant, and I'm sure that Thompson is one of the communities that is contributing very much to the coffers of the province of Manitoba.”
Johnston went on to say that it's time for the council to take a hard stand against the piggybank view that the province has of Thompson.
“I really believe that the rest of the province sees Thompson as a cash register,” said Johnston.
Much of the number crunching and research on this subject has been conducted by Coun. Judy Kolada, who has been pressing this issue since 2009. Kolada would like to see a push made to keep 25 per cent of the revenue in the community on top of the 20 per cent kept by business owners.
“If we pushed to keep 25 per cent, and gave 55 per cent back to the province, our municipal taxation would be almost nil,” said Kolada, “we just want our fair share, whatever is left they (the province) can give out their unconditional grants.”
Fairness is hardly a word that could be used to describe VLT revenue sharing, as was made clear by Coun. Luke Robinson at the Aug. 13 meeting.
“Steinbach, who has banned VLTs, their census showed more people and they get more money per capita than we do from VLTs, now that's a slap in the face,” said Robinson.
If the revenue sharing is a slap in the face, then the apparent lack of support from Steve Ashton, who is the minister responsible for lotteries and Thompson's NDP MLA, is as well. Ashton however, is not the minister responsible for this grant; it comes through the Minister of Local Government, Ron Lemieux.
“Steve (Ashton) could be a real asset to us on this issue,” said Kolada, “I think that we as a council need to come together as a united front and corner him on this to have something done. We have the hammer here, we could say we want the VLTs out and ban them like Steinbach did, we'll still receive the same percentage of the revenues.”
The Aug. 13 meeting was sparsely attended, with Johnston and a number of other councillors out of town, so whether the issue will gain momentum remains to be seen. For the time being, council must eat an $81,540 shortfall from their projected revenue.
“This is part of our general revenue that we budget for,” said Kolada, “but when we don't get it, we have to come up with that amount from some place else.”