Government considers dumping school building costs onto municipalities, property owners

The deputy minister of Education said Tuesday the government is considering dumping financial responsibility to build schools onto municipalities and, ultimately, property tax payers.

“Despite the strong economy, this government is failing at the basic job of building schools,” said Deputy Leader and education critic Trent Wotherspoon. “And, this government’s suggestion Tuesday that it might just drop some of that responsibility and that cost onto municipalities instead – that’s just plain wrong.”

The statement was made on the record by the deputy minister of Education and Lean during a meeting of a committee of the legislature.

Wotherspoon said the result of dumping costs onto already strained municipalities would be further, larger property tax increases. He also noted that municipalities are already getting less money from the province this year, have their own growing infrastructure needs to address, and have already absorbed costs the province has forced onto them.

“Saskatchewan families have had enough of having to pay extra time and time again,” said Wotherspoon. “We are pulling out our wallets to cover higher costs and new add-ons all the time, and this government doesn’t seem to understand why that’s hard on everyday families.”

The deputy minister also suggested that school divisions could turn to fundraising or research funding to build schools.

“Saskatchewan families absolutely need new schools, and they deserve a commitment from the provincial government to build them,” said Wotherspoon. “The province should build schools in the most cost-effective and efficient way possible – forcing cities and towns to hike property taxes to raise more money to pay for the schools is absolutely not acceptable.”

The remarks were made in response to a common sense recommendation from the independent provincial auditor that the government stop its scheme in which it forces school boards to borrow to pay for building and repairs, noting that the provincial government covers the principal and interest of this higher cost borrowing. The provincial government borrows at a lower interest rate than school boards or other parties. According to an investigation by the auditor, this government scheme to hide debt by having the school boards borrow money cost taxpayers an extra $3 million in interest on just four projects. 

“Instead of admitting that its manipulative accounting practices are costing taxpayers and wasting money, the government is doubling down,” said Wotherspoon. “Creative accounting and shirking responsibility will only hurt taxpayers, and kids and communities who need those schools.”

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For more information, contact:
Erin Morrison, NDP caucus