The city’s budgets passed tonight. Here are six things you should know.
1. THEY SHAVED HALF A PERCENT OFF THE MILL RATE INCREASE… HAPPY NOW? Councillor Browne kicked off discussion of the General Operating Budget with a motion to drop the mill rate increase to 4.0 per cent (down from 4.5 per cent proposed in the draft budget). No programs or services were cut to fund this. Instead, a little over $600,000 will be taken out of the Land Development Reserve.
2. STILL NOT HAPPY AT 4.0 PER CENT? BLAME THE PROVINCE: A fair bit of ire was directed the Sask Party government’s way. Councillor Hincks summed up the issue like this: “The provincial government should take all the heat for this [mill rate increase] because they set up a funding formula and didn’t stick to it.” The funding formula the province didn’t stick to is the portion of the PST the city is supposed to receive. To balance it’s own budget, the province reneged on a promise to boost the portion that municipalities are to receive. That left Regina city council $8 million poorer than they’d anticipated.
3. PEOPLE DON’T LIKE PROPERTY TAXES, PART 1: The Chamber of Commerce, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business and the Association of Regina Realtors came out to express their opposition for any property tax increase. They found that their calls for greater efficiency from the city had little traction with council tonight. Councillors repeatedly pointed to the Core Services Review as evidence that the city is turning over every rock to find efficiencies.
4. PEOPLE DON’T LIKE PROPERTY TAXES, PART 2: Councillor Szarka “served notice” to administration (what an oddly aggressive turn of phrase) that this year he’d be initiating a debate on a base tax system that could replace the city’s current property tax system because residents of his ward are tired of paying so much more in taxes and receiving so little in services when compared to residents in the inner city. Councillor Hincks backed up Szarka’s call for a review of the property tax structure. Later, Councillor O’Donnell announced that he’d be spending the next several months working to come up with alternate funding sources for the city, his goal being to find a way to make future property tax increases unnecessary.
5. CITY UNION WANTS MORE WORK AND MORE WORKERS: CUPE Local 21 came out to speak about low morale among some city workers. They argued that the city’s increasing reliance on outside contractors to complete city work is inefficient. They brought up several examples of work that could have been done in-house for less money than the city paid out to private companies. They also noted how their front-line workforce has been slowly shrinking over the years, making it difficult for them to take on additional projects despite the cost savings they could offer the city. After their presentation, no one on council asked for any elaboration.
6. OTHER THINGS PASSED TONIGHT TOO: The Regina Public Library got its requested 2.9 per cent mill rate increase and the Warehouse Business Improvement District got their 0.8809. Council also gave the green light to the City Square project despite the much-higher-than-anticipated bids to do the work. Also, in response to provincial funding cuts to pest control (which apparently were made without consultation with the city) council passed a significantly reduced mosquito control program to accommodate their loss in funding. Councillor Clipsham brought forward a motion to send the province an invoice for the pest control work that the city’s done.
Okay, that’s a quick overview of tonight’s budget proceedings. Expect more in the upcoming prairie dog.