Headingley, a sprawling, semi-agricultural town of 450 homes on Winnipeg’s western outskirts, began life about the same time as its giant sister. Once remote from the city, separated by bush, bald prairie and a long streetcar ride, Headingley has long since been gobbled up by the creeping commercial strip of Portage Avenue, with its neon glare of motels, shopping centres and fast-food restaurants. Over the past two decades, city people with a little money and a preference for large lots and semi-rustic bliss, have gradually moved in, building car barns instead of cow barns.
Vestiges of the 19th century survive, however, in the form of septic tanks and the occasional outhouse. Though Headingley was amalgamated with Winnipeg in 1971 as part of the grandiose “Unicity” plan, its residents still have to truck water in and ship sewage out at their own expense. For Headingley, which has always had a strong streak of independence, the marriage with Winnipeg has been less than blissful. Complaints of rising taxes, a burgeoning bureaucracy, declining services and a general alienation from city hall abound.
Some—notably the three-year-old Headingley Action Committee—speak openly of divorce unless the marriage becomes more of an equal partnership.
The spats—as is so often the case in troubled marriages—have to do with where the housekeeping money goes and whether there’s enough of it.
Specifically, the rebels of the Action Committee claim they are paying property taxes almost as high as inner-
city residents, yet receive in return only garbage removal, road grading and the occasional services of a mobile library. Though a streetcar ran to Headingley 50 years ago, public transit no longer exists, thus forcing most families to have two cars. “I pay almost $1,300 a year in taxes, then have to spend another $850 a year to have a private contractor truck water in,” seethes Al Koniuck, a freelance TV producer and a leading light of the rebellion. “On top of that many people are paying $35 a month to have their sewage removed. We feel we’re paying twice.”
When the city first took over the town, it granted a 12.5-per-cent tax break for the first three years, but the reduction wasn’t renewed. What galls residents even more is that the provincial government, which is spending $2 millón on a water treatment plant for inmates of Headingley Correctional Institution, offered to share with Winnipeg the costs of extending city waterlines to the town, but the offer wasn’t taken up. This is because, says Koniuck, the city knew every Headingley resident would then demand connection to the sewer and water system. “All we’re asking is that we get the same treatment as our first-class neighbors in the jail,” he says sarcastically.
City Councillor Jim Moore, whose ward takes in Headingley, denies the complainers are paying for nonexistent services: “The
noise is coming from a few squeaky wheels who moved into the area in recent times. They opted for the benefits of large lots at low prices and country living. They knew what
they were getting into and they shouldn’t complain.” Moore suspects some of the moaners bought lots cheaply in hopes the city would later provide services, thus allowing them to subdivide at a handsome profit. In fact, the city has frozen residential expansion in the area and turned down a major housing development, citing the need to contain urban sprawl. Some council critics see it all as a plot by city developers and land speculators to keep inner-city land prices high. Headingley has become a no man’s land for those with expansion in mind.
Hardest hit by the development freeze are the farmers in Headingley, some of whom would like to sell out because they can not afford to pay disproportionately high taxes on agricultural land. Marcel Taillieu, a 61-yearold grain farmer and contractor who has lived in Headingley for 49 years, notes that the average 1,000-acre farm pays $12,000 to $15,000 in taxes compared with $5,000 in the nearby town of Rosser. “We’re a sore thumb sticking out in the wilderness,” he complains. This week the Action Committee expects to present a petition to representatives of city hall signed by most of the 50 local farmers objecting to high taxes and the freeze on development. Taillieu, who was a town councillor for 10 years before the amalgamation with Winnipeg, claims that, unless there is some relief, Headingley would be better off as an independent village eligible for government grants for sewage and water treatment. But Councillor Moore, for one, pays little attention to such threats: “If they were to become independent and try to provide fire, police, refuse, road and other services with what they’re now paying in taxes, they’d soon find it’s impossible. I just can’t take their arguments seriously.”
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