Sask. government to remove clause in Bill 64 preventing municipalities from suing over cuts

It appears that municipalities will have the option to take the province to court over cuts to the grants-in-lieu of property taxes program.

Government Relations Minister Donna Harpaurer said she wants to remove a clause in Bill 64 that would prevent municipalities from taking legal action against the province over the cuts.

“I don’t feel it necessary to have that clause, but it was initially written by Justice to have that caution in there,” Harpaurer told the Intergovernmental Affairs committee, Tuesday afternoon.

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Harpauer further clarified the shift when speaking with reporters on Wednesday.

“I just didn’t feel that we are at risk. There was some concern of course because we hadn’t seen the contracts or read the contracts or even known how many contracts there were,” she explained.

“There were very few as a matter of fact and we’ve now had a chance to review those contracts and just didn’t feel the clause was necessary.”

Previously, Harpauer put forward a question asking if it made sense for two levels of government to spend money fighting each other in court.

Bill 64 is to finalize the end of the grants-in-lieu of property taxes for SaskPower and SaskEnergy in over 109 communities. The cut saves the province $33 million, but caused affected municipalities to reopen their budgets, often with property tax increases.

The Saskatchewan Association of Urban Municipalities (SUMA) is in the process of consulting with legal counsel to reassess their options on this matter, according to CEO Laurent Mougeot

READ MORE: SUMA wants to engage in ‘meaningful consultation’ with province on budget

Saskatoon city council considered taking the province to court over the cut.

In Regina, city council approved an additional 2.5 per cent mill rate increase last month. The mill rate already went up 3.99 per cent in February during the regular budget deliberations.

Mayor Michael Fougere said that removing this clause is a good symbolic gesture from the provincial government. He still disagrees with the province’s decision to cut grants-in-lieu, but said it’s time to move on.

“It’s time to build relationships. It’s time to go back, talk about what’s constructive,” Fougere said.

“What’s going to happen next year with grants-in-lieu, revenue sharing, alternative forms of revenue, are much more important than dealing with this issue now.”