Liver, Onions And Democracy

Now you can get a cup of coffee after you pay those parking tickets

City Hall | by Paul Dechene

I’ve yet to eat there so I can’t tell you how the liver & onions [1] are but I can report that city hall now has a stylish new cafeteria. Doors opened on March 22 and I understand there’s been some controversy over this latest (and last-ish?) stage of the building’s main-floor upgrade.

The foundation for that controversy was laid last May by some group calling itself the CTF. [2] The city had just announced they were going ahead with the $4.2 million project to renovate city hall’s ground floor, and the CTF was furious — FURIOUS! — that taxpayer bucks would not just be spent on infrastructure upgrades but also — FRIVOLOUSLY! — on a place where city employees could get quick, affordable meals during a work day. Why, there’s a veritable cornucopia of fantastic eating establishments within walking distance of city hall! How dare the city use public funds to set up a competitor to local business establishments!

“Guard every taxpayer dollar like it’s your most beloved child!” they shouted, “And every small business as though it were the oxygen your most beloved child breathes!” Or words to that effect. [3]

Well, okay (though it’s sad to see how little confidence these self-appointed defenders of local business have in Regina restaurants). But the thing is, opening a city hall cafeteria isn’t just about offering cheap eats to city employees.

The notion of an inviting, main-floor lunch spot was one of several ideas pitched during the Downtown Neighbourhood Plan consultations back in 2008. I remember Jennifer Keesmaat, lead consultant on the project (and, later, chief planner for the City of Toronto), touting the idea of moving the city hall cafeteria to a more welcoming and prominent location in the building. This was about opening up city hall and making it a space where the wider community could gather. It was about making municipal government more accessible and creating opportunities for citizens, civil servants and local politicians to rub elbows in an environment where city issues would be on the mind — and, metaphorically, on the menu!

The city hall cafeteria was to be as much about fostering civic engagement as it was about feeding city workers and I remember thinking at the time, “Oh, that makes some sense,” and also, “It will never happen.”

And yet it did. So while I’m sure the cafeteria will provide lots of fertilizer for future pronouncements from the grandstanding troll farmers at the CTF, I’m personally pleased to see this surprising little piece of the Downtown Neighbourhood Plan fall into place.

Of course, I’m not going to eat there. Too many of the people I see at city council meetings would be hanging about. It’d be weird.

Speaking of city council…

Ring Road Rail Remediation Report Requested

I don’t drive so the Ring Road is a fabled thing I’ve never experienced and only know from overheard conversations at hot rod parties. Apparently, railway crossings are a problem?

Well, fear not, frustrated motorists! Your mayor has heard your cries!

Mayor Michael Fougere brought forward a motion at council’s March 26 meeting requesting city administration study the feasibility of dealing with the Ring Road rail crossings between McDonald and Winnipeg Street — whether by building an overpass, an underpass or by moving those rail lines entirely.

Fougere noted that 63,000 vehicles travel through that area daily versus 16 trains — and yet, those two rail crossings cause a significant amount of congestion on the Ring Road.

For those hoping passage of this motion means the Ring Road will soon be train free, the bad news is administration says just the feasibility study will take a year to complete. Only after that’s done can planning begin.

School Tax Screwjob

Also at their March 26 meeting, council authorized the Executive Director of City Planning to finalize a five-year agreement with the provincial government over how education property taxes will be collected and distributed.

In the past, the city collected education taxes on behalf of the school boards and then distributed that money to them. To cover administration costs, the city kept 1.8% of the taxes collected. Thanks to changes the provincial government has made to the Education Property Tax Act effective this year, the city will still have to collect those property taxes but it will no longer be allowed to charge an administration fee.

The province is effectively forcing the city to do provincial tax collection work for free.

And in 2017, that administration fee was $2,380,385.

But did that actually reflect what the work cost to do? Mayor Fougere says it did.

“I believe that represented a fairly accurate amount of time and effort that we used to collect the taxes,” says Fougere. “And that was an agreement with the province over many, many years.”

Regardless, that’s $2 million in revenue the city used to be able rely upon which went missing in this year’s municipal budget, and it represented about 0.9% of this year’s 4.34% property tax increase. Thanks province!

Plan To End Homelessness Moves Ahead

Outside of Henry Baker Hall, the YMCA-led project to end homelessness in the city held its first round of public consultation on March 21. Dubbed the Plan To End Homelessness Summit, the meeting brought together community groups, social services organizations, developers, housing advocates and government officials to discuss solutions to the city’s homelessness problem.

Further consultations will be held this June and a draft plan to end homelessness is expected in September.

To get there, data on the local homelessness context is needed and as such the YMCA and their community partners are conducting a second Point-in-Time count of Regina’s homeless population on April 18. The goal will be to measure how many people are homeless, sleeping on the streets or in shelters on a single day between 8:00 p.m. and 11:00 p.m. Organizers are seeking as many volunteers as possible and anyone interested in helping out can sign up here.


Footnotes

  1. ^ There are only two facts related to the old city hall cafeteria — which closed in 2013 — that I can remember. First, that it served liver and onions every Thursday. And second, that there is a Liver Lovers Club in Regina that used to gather at the city hall cafeteria to enjoy a weekly organ meat feast.
  2. ^ Crusty Troll Farmers? Corporate Toady Faction? Canadian Tooters & Farters? Cernurdern Terxbergers Ferdershun? Whoever these jokers are, I’m sure they’re as legit as the Liver Lovers Club, if not as worthy of your attention.
  3. ^ Actually, the CTF’s prairie director Todd MacKay was quoted as saying of the cafeteria, “[The City Of Regina] should be defending every dollar to the utmost,” in a May 12, 2017 Global News piece. So, yes, I was exaggerating. But not by much.