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Tax incentive bylaw passes final reading

By Brian Oliver, The Graphic

The City Hall of Portage la Prairie.  (FILE PHOTO)

The City Hall of Portage la Prairie. (FILE PHOTO)

A proposed bylaw to fast track the development of much needed rental properties attracted quite the audience to Monday evening's city council meeting in Portage la Prairie.

After hearing from several delegations and much discussion among council members, Portage city council voted four to three to pass the final reading of bylaw 18-8672, an agreement with Vionell Holdings Partnership that will see the development of a maximum of four 32-unit multi-family buildings and a maximum of four 12-unit condo/life lease buildings at Meighen Estates.

Assuming Vionell meets all the parameters dictated in the bylaw, the absolute maximum the company can collect as a tax benefit is $568K. 

"I believe there is a need for this to happen," says Portage la Prairie Mayor, Irvine Ferris, in regards to the incentives offered to meet the imminent housing demand brought by the expansion of Simplot and the arrival of Roquette. "We’re growing. The permanent jobs are growing. Right now, with the vacancy rate as it is, if somebody is not developing something - in two and half, three years time - we’re going to have a real crunch."

According to figures made available by the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation, the vacancy rate on two bedroom rentals sits at 1.5 per cent while the vacancy rate on three bedroom rentals is 0 per cent.

"I’ve had a tremendous number of calls from people who are renters or want to be renters." adds Ferris. "I got a call from a fellow who has three kids and for the last eight months he’s been looking to rent a three bedroom. He tells me he can’t find one."

Several delegations presented to council Monday - made up of local realtors, developers and investors - all of whom were against the passing of the bylaw. Reasons cited against the proposed legislation include such factors as the city's alleged wealth of unsuitable renters, the bylaw won't solve the city's housing problem and the bylaw is merely political jargon for an investment subsidy.

"Originally, I think I would have been in favour of this because I looked at what they are proposing on doing," said Espey, who was absent from the meeting where council heard the first reading. "That being said though, the opinions I've heard have either been against (the bylaw) or indifferent. I haven't had anyone come up to me and say that they are genuinely in favour of this.

"There have been a lot of businesses in Portage that have had the challenge of trying to grow in this city without the aid of municipal tax money and I believe Vionell is coming here because they see an opportunity."

The incentive opportunity would span over a five year period that would see Vionell tax exempt the first year the building receives occupancy permits. The second year Vionell would receive 80 per cent savings, then 60 per cent the following year while decreasing 20 per cent annually over the five years. 

"If I was sure this $26 million dollar development would have happened had we said no, that would be a different thing, but I'm not so sure that it would have gone ahead had we said no," said Coun. Wall of the tax incentive. "It's a major development that will bring us (hundreds of thousands of dollars) in taxes for many years to come once it's all phased in."

The last apartment building erected in Portage la Prairie was in the early 1980s. With over 200 permanent jobs created between the expansion of Simplot and arrival of Roquette alone, finding a place to live will only become more difficult.

"You’ve got to have housing. If you don’t have it, it doesn’t matter how many jobs you have, people can’t move here," says the Mayor. "We’re going to have people come and commute to work in Portage. They are not going to shop here. They are not going to pay taxes here. They are not going to have their kids in school here."

Ferris reiterated council's equal opportunity investment offer Monday night, an offer that has yet to even garner a nibble. The Mayor stated during an April council meeting that any local investor that presents a similar development to that of Vionell, the same tax incentives will be available. 

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