This Week At City Hall: 2013 Budget Will Devour My Brain

This Week at City HallA semi-surprise e-mail arrived today announcing that the 2013 municipal budget will be launched tomorrow with a special technical briefing and media conference. And I say “semi-surprise” because I’d heard it was coming sometime in January but I was hoping that meant late January. But here it is. Great! The budget! Some hundreds of pages of numbers and Infinite Horizons swishes!

Guess I know what I’ll be writing about for the next issue. Anyone want to place bets on what the mill rate increase is going to be? Personally, I reckon it won’t be less than three and a half per cent but it will be under five. Here’s why.

Saskatoon blazed a trail last month with a property tax boost of 4.99 per cent. So we can set ours anywhere under that and look pretty good.

But working against a low or zero per cent increase is the Municipal Price Index — that’s the inflation rate for stuff the city has to buy. The city only started tracking that closely last year. And Saskatoon found their MPI to be 3.25 per cent. Ours will probably be pretty much the same so it’d be foolish to boost city revenues by less than this because then we’d see a deterioration of services. And I don’t want that. A water main broke out in front of our place last month and now we don’t have a sidewalk.

I want my sidewalk back. So if you hear tomorrow that you’re going to be paying a little more this year in property taxes, remember, you’re doing it for me.

I’d do the same for you if you were sidewalk-less.

Of more concern to me — even more than if the city will be able to fix my sidewalk in under 18 months — is what will the city be using as the Mill Rate Comparator this year. That’s the insignificant purchase that costs about the same as property taxes will be increasing by.

It’s usually expressed in cups of coffee. Such as, council will say something like, “For the average Regina household, property taxes will only be going up the cost of a cup of coffee a month.”

 

It’s a pretty useful comparator because it’s so vague. A cup of coffee can mean a lot of different things nowadays. If you’re going to be paying a buck or two more, then it’s implied they’re comparing the mill rate boost to a cup of Tim Horton’s brew. If it’s more in the five dollar range, then it’s a fancy, Starbucks espresso-based concoction.

Take the stadium, for instance. When it was revealed that council would probably have to raise the mill rate by a fraction of a per cent to pay for it, the line from council was that that worked out to about the cost of a cup of coffee per year. Now, it’d probably be more accurate to say, “Give up one grande mochachino and biscotti a year and get a stadium,” but still, it does succeed in making the tax hike sound pretty insignificant.

And putting tax increases into terms people can understand makes a lot of sense. I’d just like to see the units change up now and then. It doesn’t always have to be a cup of coffee. There are so many frivolous purchases that we make all the time without thinking that could be used instead. You know, so that I don’t get bored. Here are some suggestions….

• pair of tube socks
• kazoo
• pint of beer at Slow Pub
• cupcake at Fresh and Sweet
• sandwich at Italian Star Deli (actually, that might not work because I wouldn’t forgo one of those even if it’d get me a fancy moving sidewalk)
• Saskatchewan Roughriders jersey napkins (set of eight)
• cloth Safeway bag
• shitty end table on UsedRegina.com
• issue of Canadian House & Home magazine
• intro-level pledge in the Tiny Kitten Teeth Deluxe Hardcover Kickstarter
• Bowie album pre-order on iTunes
• month of Netflix subscription
• chintzy Christmas gift you give your mailman
• square inches of sidewalk in front of Paul Dechene’s house

As for what else is going on this week at city hall, there isn’t much. The Accessibility, Environment and Municipal Heritage Advisory committees all met this week but mostly just set their work schedules and meeting times for the year. Municipal Heritage did look at a report recommending that the city restore and set up the Davin Fountain somewhere. So that’s nice.

Finance And Administration Committee also met. But all they covered was a report recommending the city give the RCMP Heritage Centre a $100,000 community investment grant to help offset their projected $300,000 to $400,000 deficit. I have yet to visit the RCMP Heritage Centre but it’s the kind of thing I suppose community investment grants should be going towards.

Still, I find it odd that Creative City Centre was denied $30,000 in operational funding last year because their business plan was deemed “incomplete” by the Arts Advisory Committee. Meanwhile, the RCMP Heritage Centre already is the beneficiary of a $904,000 annual tax exemption and still can’t make ends meet. And that’s considered a good bet for an additional $100,000 in support.

Okaaaaay…

Anyway, that’s it for this week. You can read all the reports on the city’s website. And look out for more budget coverage tomorrow. You’ll get to find out how many cups of coffee you’ll be giving up this year.

And you know, it really should be lots because coffee is bad for you.

Author: Paul Dechene

Paul Dechene is 5’10” tall and he was born in a place. He’s not there now. He’s sitting in front of his computer writing his bio for this blog. He has a song stuck in his head. It’s “Girl From Ipanema”, thanks for asking.

You can follow Paul on Twitter at @pauldechene and get live updates during city council meetings and other city events at @PDcityhall.

13 thoughts on “This Week At City Hall: 2013 Budget Will Devour My Brain”

  1. Re: Pint of beer at Slow Pub, why are you going to Slow Pub when you are a block from O’Hanlons and across the street from Beer Bros. Also ambience is better at Freehouse (though more costly, thus making the comparators better for the city.

    Also, I hope you get your sidewalk fixed in a timely manner. Of course if water infrastructure had been properly kept up, maybe you wouldn’t have lost your sidewalk to the water main in the first place.

  2. I go to O’Hanlon’s all the time. I thought that would be taken as a given. I mean, I mention that in like every other column.

    I work from home though, not at the p-dog office, and Slow Pub is basically around the corner from me. Plus, their home-grown pints are $5 on the nose which was sort of the dollar amount I was using as a benchmark when compiling that list. (Although the Bowie album preorder is like $18 or something but thought it was a funny inclusion for some reason.)

  3. I hope you don’t mind, but I linked to a small part of your comment to make a larger point.

    Best argument for taxes, it buys you civilization, or in this case from the DogBlog, sidewalks.

    But working against a low or zero per cent increase is the Municipal Price Index — that’s the inflation rate for stuff the city has to buy. The city only started tracking that closely last year. And Saskatoon found their MPI to be 3.25 per cent. Ours will probably be pretty much the same so it’d be foolish to boost city revenues by less than this because then we’d see a deterioration of services. And I don’t want that. A water main broke out in front of our place last month and now we don’t have a sidewalk.

    I want my sidewalk back. So if you hear tomorrow that you’re going to be paying a little more this year in property taxes, remember, you’re doing it for me.

    I’d do the same for you if you were sidewalk-less.

    And there is the essence of civilization, you help me with my sidewalk when I don’t have one, and I will do the same for you.

  4. Paul, you might want to read up a bit on my blog about the F&A Committee this week. Sure, it was a simple rubber stamp about the RCMP funding, but I’ve brought up some serious concerns as to exactly WHERE those monies are coming from. And, at this point in time, City Clerks have been zero help, as has Chris Holden, the holder of the funds. So, yeah.

    As for the budget….WTH?? I thought that was coming out in February sometime? When will the “general public” be given the golden key to check this puppy out? You KNOW I’m gonna be combing through it with a fine tooth comb this year.

    I actually set a challenge to City Council to hold the mill rate increase at ZERO. Why? Because I’m sure we can all appreciate that “things go up”, but that said, that’s also assuming the City is being run as efficiently as possible. And, well…it simply isn’t. When the budget docs come out, and I see what they’ve projected for increases, I’ll make more of a stink about it, but mark my words, the Regina Police will ask for 5-10% more “to increase our presence and fight the growing crime because of our growing population”, the Regina Public Library will ask for more, simply because they are autocratic and they can, and all other departments will ask for more, just cuz they don’t understand how to actually manage a budget like a business would.

    I hereby lay this challenge to, not only City Council, but to ALL City-funded organizations and departments. FIND a way to keep your budget the same from 2012 to 2013. Really comb through your expenses and decide if you really need to spend $1.2 MILLION on salaries alone (RROC), when you have absolutely no idea what your organization even exists for anymore. Or the RPL, why are we spending $10.5 MILLION on salaries alone, when our society is becoming far less dependant on brick and mortar libraries?

    Let’s wait and see what happens. Can’t WAIT to see what they say, if anything, about the RRI in the budget.

  5. “and all other departments will ask for more, just cuz they don’t understand how to actually manage a budget like a business would”

    What a lazy and baseless comment to make Chad. Particularly from someone who as an elected official, would have had to work with these same people.

    Ugh.

  6. Dave – It’s a given fact. If you’ve EVER worked in a goverment organization, you would completely understand. The mentality is moreso about ensuring you spend the budget you’ve been given, even if you have 50% of it left with one month to go. Why? Because then next year, you might not get as much, and other departments will get your excess. It’s completely backwards thinking, but until someone actually comes out and says it, that has had experience in it, no one’s going to do a damned thing about it. (Whistleblower anyone?)

  7. Chad,

    I have worked in the public sector, and do know a bit about how public budgets are finalized.

    As an accountant, I’m sure you know that budget lapsing isn’t unique to the public sector. It’s also something that people outside of the public sector tend to speak about anecdotally without having any understanding of how budgeting in the public sector actually works.

  8. #5
    why no one votes

    F&A committee
    (rroc)
    rri

    I have an understanding of what RPL stands for as a necessarry entity nin society, as that not every citizen has CPU conectivity from their homes.

    If you want to type , can’t you spell out the whole word(s)??

    what the h/f is rroc?

  9. #5
    why no one votes

    F&A committee
    (rroc)
    rri

    I have an understanding of what RPL stands for, and as a necessary entity in society, as that not every citizen has computer conectivity from their homes or their person.

    If you want to type , can’t you spell out the whole word(s)??

    what the h/f is rroc?

  10. Sorry, Ron. F&A Committee – Finance and Administration Committee, a sub committee to City Council. RROC – Regina Regional Opportunities Commission. RRI – Regina Revitalization Initiative (Stadium. RPL – Regina Public Library.

    I don’t disagree that the RPL has a purpose in our society, but certainly not as much of a purpose as, say, 10 years ago.

  11. Ron, I apologize for using abbreviations when referring to City Departments and Organizations. I’ve just seen them so much lately, that I mistakenly assume everyone knows what they stand for. My goal is to try to break City Council and Committee actions down to a more understandable level for the average citizen, and thank you for the reminder of that. That said, I’ll elaborate a bit more below on the RROC, RPL, and RRI.

    The reason I bring up the RRI, RROC and RPL, is because they are three sore points for me, when I review the City Budgets of years past. Of course, the RPS (Regina Police Service) is another sore point, but until their separate funding request comes in, I can’t comment too much on it, other than, typically, they have always requested steady increases in budgets over the past 10-15 years. Why? “Because our population is increasing and thus our crime increases and we need more resources on the street.” Or, at least that’s according to the RPS official response. In reality, who knows. My feeling, though, is it might have a little bit to do with the fact that Troy Hagen, the current RPS Chief of Police, was probably one of the main reasons that ex-mayor Fiacco got elected in the first place, with the endorsement by him at the time when he was head of the Police Union.

    As for my sensitivity to RROC, well, that’s an organization that exists for a purpose that isn’t very clear. Sure, they have a mission statement, but when you speak to their CEO, Larry Hiles, no one there seems to really understand what it’s truly about. The mission statement of RROC is to “Identify, develop and promote opportunities that advance economic prosperity for those who live, work, learn, visit and invest in the Regina region.” And, yet, when a local up and coming entrepreneur approaches them with a truly sound business idea, unless he or she is willing to divulge the entire business plan and potentially give away confidential information that he or she had been working very hard on for several years, RROC will refuse much help at all. It’s really unfortunate that their CEO chooses that route, because it puts the entire existence of the organization into even more question. Let alone the fact that, at the current moment, it simply seems to be an organization created to employ friends and family of “the elite” in our great City. One of significant note would be our ex-mayor’s daughter, whom caused waves at the best of times with the connections of RROC. And then you have the ex-mayoral candidate, Meka Okochi, which is a whole other ball of wax. The organizations that existed before RROC (Tourism Regina and REDA) may have had a true purpose, but since changing to RROC and the province removing their funding from the organization, it remains unclear as to what true benefit it actually provides for Regina taxpayers.

    The RRI has been a sore point for many Regina citizens for some time, and the main cause of this being the fact that our former City Council absolutely refused to consult with the public to have a say on the record-setting expense, that literally has the potential to bankrupt our City. I’m not saying this to fear monger, it’s simply a reality, based on existing credit and potential credit to use up by the City. It has happened in other cities in recent years, and it can happen here. The big issue is that there are viable alternatives to building a brand new stadium, much more financially responsible alternatives. And, no, don’t buy the excuse that Mayor Fougere throws out to the media of the $150M price tag for renovations, that only the City would have to pay for. He knows full well that number is full of hot air, and he has NOTHING to back it up, other than “That’s what administration told me, and I put my trust in them to do their job.” No, Mr. Fougere, as a responsible Councillor and now Mayor, your job is to make sure that the City Admin ARE doing their jobs right, and make sure the numbers make sense. If YOU don’t fact check, who the hell else will? There’s no one higher than Mayor, at least on a Civic Governance level.

    The common complaint that I heard on the campaign trail, about Mosaic Stadium, was the dilapidated washrooms and seating. That being said, back in 2007, Mayor Fiacco stated publicly that the taxpayers couldn’t stomach building a brand new stadium, and as such, he was wanting to pursue a renovation to Mosaic Stadium that, funny enough, would upgrade the washrooms and seating. The cost of this renovation? $5.8 Million in 2007 dollars. Yes, that’s right, only $5.8 Million. To satisfy the majority of the current RRI supporters, that’s all it would cost. For me, it’s a no brainer. Do that, and then PLAN properly for a replacement for Mosaic Stadium in 15-20 years, one that can have a retractable roof dome, and be used year round.

    As for the Regina Public Library, the fact that we are spending over $10 MILLION per year on salaries alone, blows my mind. Yes, Libraries DO serve a purpose. However, in this day and age, certainly even the most die hard library supporter can appreciate they don’t play as big a role as they did even 5-10 years ago. As such, perhaps it’s time to review the expenditures of this organization and cut some needless expenditures. I’ve heard that management at both City Hall and Regina Public Library are extremely excessive, so even if we were to eliminate 10 $100,000 jobs between the two, that’s a million dollars right there! There would obviously need to be a fuller review than just that, but you get what I mean.

  12. I think instead of a tax increase, they are going for more realistic appraisals. I just got my property assessment and it’s very close to the actual value of the property — usually it’s a pretend number far below market value and then the tax rate applies to that. Last time the assessment went up, my taxes tripled. My guess is that’s how they’re going to get the money for everything, while still being able to claim that they haven’t raised taxes.

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