A Dog At The Hall

I’m stoked for Prairie Dog’s anniversary. Then again, I think property taxes are interesting.

City Hall | by Paul Dechene

Here it is! The Big Anniversary Issue!

I didn’t think anyone had noticed.

Yes, it’s 2018 and that means I’ve been covering city hall for Prairie Dog for 10 years! Ten long years! I’m so glad at least a couple people remembered. So many Monday nights at Henry Baker Hall, live-tweeting until the wee hours. Stumbling home, bleary eyed in the dark, an ache in my butt and the fire of outrage stoking in my belly. All those rants at my children over breakfast the next morning about the latest wrongheaded council vote: “You would not believe who they granted a property tax exemption,” I’d say. “Please, father. You’re stabbing your waffles,” they’d reply.

It sounds like I’m complaining but there are perks to this job. I’ve lived in 10 different cities and until Regina, I’ve never felt so connected with what was going on around me, municipally speaking. And I’ve never known quite so wide a variety of people before, either. It’s gratifying even though I worry sometimes that all I’m doing is building up an esoteric body of civic knowledge nobody really cares about.

But, as it turns out, some people do care. The twitter account I use exclusively to live-tweet council meetings has 690 followers. [1] That’s friggin’ insane.

Anyway, thanks Regina for reading this decade-worth of city-related ink. And thanks to Stephen Whitworth for not hanging up on that weirdo who wouldn’t write about anything except city hall and maybe Warcraft that one time. And thanks Prairie Dog for dedicating this issue to the first 10 years of my career as a city hall writer!

Wait… I just got a notification… Whitworth e-mailed and, oh. It’s a Prairie Dog anniversary issue? Not a Dechene Anniversary Issue? That’s embarrassing. Twenty-five years, eh? Yes, I can see how that’s 2.5 times more impressive. Thanks, Steve.

Okay! I guess I should say happy birthday, Prairie Dog, then. Happy birthday to one of the last free, independent newspapers alive. That’s an insane accomplishment. Stand proud amidst all this media carnage. You’re a survivor.

I will celebrate this milestone the only way I know how: by writing about property taxes!

New Budget Same As The Old Budget

Regina released its draft budget for 2018 on Feb. 1 and responses to the proposed 4.86% property tax increase were swift.

“How can they be raising our taxes again?” “It’s too much!” “There are seniors on fixed incomes who’re suffering!” “Cash grab! Cash grab!” “This increase is a small-business killer!” “They’ve got to knuckle down and find some savings! Fire some staff! And fix my road while they’re at it!”

I don’t want to trivialize anyone’s suffering. I get it. Sure, this increase only adds up to an additional $7.70 a month for a family living in a house worth $350,000. But that’s on top of the $8.48 a month proposed in 2017, the $7.99 a month in 2016, the $8.44 a month in 2015, the $9.10 in 2014 and the $5.25 a month in 2013, etc. [2]

It adds up.

But if you’re a seasoned city hall writer (Did I mention? Ten years!) [3] Then you’ve been to this pageant before. You have a suit picked out for it and a favourite seat. You can practically write the Canadian Federation of Independent Business’ speech for them.

You should be at the point where nothing will surprise you. But this year, I am surprised.

I thought the property tax increase would be way bigger. [4]

Remember last February? The city proposed a 4.18% property tax increase. Whittled it down to 3.99%. And then along comes March and the release of Brad Wall’s last provincial budget. It included the surprise removal of a program whereby the province paid Saskatchewan cities for the property taxes crown corporations weren’t paying. It was a huge hit. In the kick to the nuts sense. Ending the grants-in-lieu program cost the city $11 million and necessitated a second city budget. It came with its own property tax increase.

All told, property taxes went up 6.49% in 2017. And the impacts from the loss of the grants-in-lieu program are still being felt this year.

Overall, city administration estimates provincial cuts will cost Regina the equivalent of a 2.99% property tax increase. Add to that the annual one percent increase dedicated to residential road repair, the 0.45% annual increase for the new stadium, and the 1.06% increase Regina Police Service asked for, that already adds up to a 5.5% property tax increase.

To get down to a 4.86% increase, city administration reports they had to find savings equivalent to a 0.64% property tax reduction.

But I’m sure the CFIB will want Regina to go even lower.

Hey, I can think of an easy 0.45% we probably could’ve done without.

No Moe Money For Cities

In his first address to the Saskatchewan Urban Municipalities Association, freshly minted premier Scott Moe warned that the 2018 provincial budget would be a tight one, just like 2017. He also indicated that cities shouldn’t expect a return of the grants-in-lieu program any time soon.

Instead, he said he wanted to negotiate a new revenue-sharing model with municipalities.

Saskatoon mayor, Charlie Clark, suggested a simple solution to the problem: make the provincial crowns pay property taxes.

Capital Inverted Pointe

I was nostalgically digging through old files the other day. Found a promotional folder for Capital Pointe. The glossy package was printed in 2010. Included a flyer for the Hilton Garden Inn that was going to be part of the development. Condos were priced between $199,900 and $634,000.

Expected occupancy was December 2012.

On Feb. 9, 2018, Fortress Real Development announced that Capital Pointe completion would be pushed back another year to spring of 2020.

Fortress has until March to achieve meaningful construction on Capital Pointe’s foundation or another development permit will expire.

The Capital Pointe slogan in my vintage promo package is, “It’s What Regina Is Looking Up To.”

Bwah-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!


Notes

  1. I live-tweet city council meetings from @PDCityHall if you want to add yourself to the list.
  2. I pulled these numbers from past draft city budgets. I have them going back to 2007! I was a little sloppy pulling these numbers as some years they give you the monthly rate for a family living in a house worth $200,000. Some years they just give you a monthly increase for “an average family.” My point in listing these numbers wasn’t to give you a precise tally of what your property taxes have gone up in the last so many years but rather just to show how every year, the city raises your taxes and they always minimize the impact by breaking it down to a monthly sum, which never looks too bad. As long as you ignore the context.
  3. A trip down memory lane, Regina’s property tax increases for the last 14 years: 6.49% in 2017, 3.3% in 2016, 3.9% in 2015, 5.88% in 2014, 4.45% in 2013, 3.9% in 2012, 4% in 2011, 4% in 2010, 0% in 2009, 2.84% in 2008, 3.91% in 2007, 0% in 2006, 4% in 2005, 0% in 2004.
  4. I lost the office pool. I’d bet $100 bucks in it. That works out to $8.33 a month. Which means I’m basically paying property taxes twice this year.