This Week At City Hall: Tax Breaks Galore, City Hall Shuffle, Other Stuff!

Been thinking about building an office tower downtown but not sure if you can afford it? As reported earlier on the Dog Blog, there’s good news on the horizon for you! Executive Committee is meeting this very day — at this very moment, in fact — to help make your office tower more affordable!

They’re voting on an “economic development incentive for construction of downtown office space” to help stimulate the market. The property tax exemption will amount to a 20 per cent discount for three years for new “Class A” and “Class B” (henceforth referred to as “Super Fancy” and “Pretty Darn Fancy”, respectively) office space.

The policy will be in effect until the vacancy rate for Super Fancy and Pretty Darn Fancy office space is above five per cent. Currently, Regina has the lowest office vacancy rate in Canada and the downtown office vacancy rate is 1.5 per cent and less than one per cent for Super Fancy offices.

Now, I know what you’re thinking… A 20 per cent discount?? That’s peanuts. That isn’t nearly enough to get me to build a swank, Fancy Nancy Approved tower downtown!

But what if I told you that that 20 per cent is just the tip of the property tax exemption iceberg? If you can attract some head offices into your new building, they’ll be eligible for some pretty significant exemptions as well.

Remember Mosaic, for instance? We wrote about them last December. You know how much property tax is being paid on their portion of the soon-to-be-built Hill Tower III?

Zip! Nada! Nothing!

They got a full one hundred per cent property tax discount — even though at the time they only qualified for an already-hefty 75 per cent discount — because council likes them so much. Now that deal seems to have been cut kind of on the fly, so who knows what kind of sweet deals you and your tenants will be offered.

That is, unless they’re a non-corporate, non-head-office kind of tenant. Those guys can’t count on anything. As we mentioned in the Mosaic piece from December, Souls Harbour sought a tax exemption on some property of theirs but were turned down because no one is even contemplating a tax exemption for their type of work. And more recently, (at the Nov 8 council meeting in fact) the Saskatchewan Abilities Council — a registered charity that helps people with disabilities — requested a tax exemption on some property they own but were turned down for lack of a specific program to grant such an exemption.

But lack of a specific program at the time didn’t stop council from giving Mosaic an extra 25 per cent off their property tax bill, amirite?

I mean, it’s not like non-profits and all their do-goodery contribute anything to the community in the form of dollars and cents.

Okay. That’s it for the sarcastic bitching. Sober summary after the jump…

Gee… what else is on the calendar for this week at city hall?

Wednesday, November 16
EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE (11:45 am): This is going on as I type! Not only is Exec Committee considering the tax exemption for office space mentioned above, they are also looking at a reorganization of city administration. From now on, under the City Manager’s Office, there will be only three divisions:

City Operations – under Deputy City Manager Dorian Wandzura this will cover Public Works, Transit, Parks and Open Space and Fire & Protective Services.
• Community Planning and Development – under Deputy City Manager Jason Carlston, this will include Development Engineering, Planning and Sustainability, Community Services and Assessment and Property Taxation. Bylaw Enforcement and Licensing and Municipal Fines will be covered here too.
• Corporate Services – under Deputy City Manager Brent Sjoberg, this will cover Human Resources, Finance, Information Technology, Fleet Services and Facilities Management Servcies.

There will also be a separate  Legal department (under Byron Werry, Exec Director and City Solicity) and a Governance and Strategy department under Jim Nicol which will include the City Clerk’s office.

I’m not sure how this will impact city operations seeing as nothing is being trimmed or cut, stuff is just being shuffled around. The old Community and Protective Services department always seemed like a bit of a mish mash so maybe doing stuff like sticking Fire & Protective Services under City Operations will be a good plan. I don’t know.

Also up for consideration are the elected official committee appointments for 2012. Looks like nothing much is changing there from 2011. Attendance records for your city councillors are included in that report and I don’t have time to retype them here so either check the report yourself or maybe I’ll get a minute to post something on that later in the week.

There also seem to be five items on the private agenda but because they’re private we don’t know what they’re about. How intriguing!

COMMUNITY AND PROTECTIVE SERVICES COMMITTEE (4:00 pm): Considering new service and performance standards for the transit system, the annual boost to the community service fees and charges and a new cemetery fee schedule.

And that’s it. A quick overview of what’s on at your city hall. If you want to read more, go to the city’s website. And, all of this stuff will come up again when it goes to council. Which is good, because I suspect I’m far from done griping about the tax exemptions. And I’m sure there’s shit to be said about the performance standards for the buses. But I have to go. Kids need their lunch.

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: Tax Breaks Galore, City Hall Shuffle, Other Stuff!”

  1. Tax exemtptions – not a terrible thing. That’s typical really – incentivize things you want, tax things you don’t. We don’t have enough office space so… Everyone should get the same deal though. Also, if I remember correctly, Class A/B/C is also related to the size of teh building, not jsut fanciness.

    Reshuffling – I always though it was stupid to have planning/building and parks/bylaw enforcement seperate. Just dumb. Looks like the engineers that decide what we need and the ones in charge of maintaining it are still separate which is somewhat dumb.And it does look like they are not replacing some of the “Deputy City Managers” (or whatever they used to call them) who have departed recently, so maybe they will save some ridiculously high salaries that way. Or maybe they’ll just pay the clowns that remain more?

  2. Saskboy: It is, actually. Exec Committee handles a lot of stuff that has to stay on the down low until it gets to council.

  3. anonymouse: I’m not opposed to using tax exemptions to encourage stuff we need and want in the city. What does bug me is that council seems willing to be “flexible” when it comes to making tax-exemption allowances for a corporation like Mosaic, but when non-profits go to council looking for the same flexibility, they’re told council can’t cut them a deal because they don’t want to risk setting a precedent.

    Also, I have to wonder, where is the public consultation on tax exemptions? It seems that when new exemption policies are considered, it’s done by consulting with businesses and the Regina Regional Opportunities Council — so the people who’re going to benefit from the tax cuts.

    But the people who’re going to be impacted by the loss of city revenue don’t seem to be part of the process. And I don’t just mean the general public. As Barb Saylor has pointed out, the library system and the schools are impacted by these tax exemptions as well.

    I don’t think we should have a consultation over every single tax exemption. But maybe we should consider having a public discussion around how we want to encourage development in the city and what kinds development we’ll consider worthy of special consideration tax-wise.

  4. Hm. If only there were something like this in place for, um, I don’t know, RENTAL HOUSING? But oh wait, that might be the pin that finally bursts the Regina real estate bubble. Can’t have that.

  5. Actually, Aber. There is a housing incentive policy.

    There are five-year tax exemptions available for new rental housing (can’t remember how much of an exemption it is). And the city offers grants of $10,000 per unit of affordable housing built in the city. (And I think that $10,000 might be matched by the province now).

    It’s a pretty good policy considering housing isn’t technically the city’s responsibility. (The province is supposed to be handling that.)

  6. “Private agenda” is better known and better described as “in camera”, or “closed session”, or “in committee” discussion. The items dealt with in such sessions may vary, depending on the organisation – which should have a set policy listing just what falls under in camera discussion and what does not – but they usually include personnel matters, contract negotiations, and some financial issues.

  7. There’s all sorts of funny business going on there Paul. I agree that everyone should be given the same benefit. Do the non-profits pay taxes in the first place? They have been quite generous with SOME non-profits, but leave other very worthy organizations out of the loop, but that’s a whole other deal. Currently we have a demand for office space. They need to incentivize it to get it built (well, that’s debatable I guess – no question that the incentives for rental housing have helped a bit though). The rules should be the same for everyone, but this isn’t the only place it’s not. Library affected – yes. Aren’t the schools primarily provincial? I’m not sure the city can exempt them from those. I could be wrong though.

  8. Hi Paul,
    I’ve been meaning to write on here for some time, but I’ve found myself quite occupied of late– wanted to express how much I appreciate your reporting on City Hall and other municipal matters. These important civic structures and happenings are all too typically ignored by the media and yet are of tremendous importance.

    You and the P-Dog are doing such fantastic work contributing to our community! (No I’m not trying to get a T-shirt!)
    In appreciation,
    Marc

  9. No, Ron, it does not. Would you like your possible firing discussed in public by your employer? I thought not.

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