Town councillors in Swan River, Man., are eyeing a unique approach to solving the funding crunch facing many municipalities – a 3-per-cent municipal tax on all alcohol sold within town limits.
The idea is to raise money from booze to pay for policing the crimes and traffic violations that sometimes result from drinking.
"Even people who enjoy alcohol would have a hard time denying that alcohol probably is a contributing factor in a number of crimes that are committed," said Jason Delaurier, the town councillor behind the plan.
He is proposing it as a bylaw to be considered at the council's next meeting on Nov. 20.
"Our [police] budget is nearing 20 per cent of our total expenditures, so I think we need to look for other ways to pay for it other than relying on the property taxpayer."
Swan River, a community of 3,900 near the Saskatchewan boundary, pays almost $900,000 a year for RCMP services. While other Manitoba municipalities charge levies on hotel accommodations, energy bills, concert tickets and other items, none of them charge a tax on liquor.
Mr. Delaurier said he doesn't know how much support he has on council, but the idea has gone over fairly well with citizens.
"Some have commented off the cuff, 'Are you going to tax broccoli?' ... But once I explain the rationale behind it, most people are supportive."
Even if council votes to adopt the tax, it would still require approval from the provincial government. The NDP rejected a similar proposal from the City of Thompson in 2008.
Premier Greg Selinger, who had not seen the Swan River proposal Friday, said the Thompson tax was rejected in part because of a desire to ensure that alcohol profits pay for provincial programs.
"We didn't want to have differential rates for alcohol across the province. It's a uniform rate," Mr. Selinger said.
"And we wanted to ensure that any profits that came out of that would benefit all Manitobans for things like health care, education and other key investments at the provincial level, like infrastructure."
The Canadian Taxpayers Federation panned the booze tax proposal, arguing cities and towns should cut spending instead of looking for more money.
"Councils need to do more heavy lifting to look at ways of becoming more efficient. They should be looking at things like contracting out to save money," spokesman Colin Craig said.