Regina city council finalized the 2021 city general operating budget on Thursday which includes an increase to the mill rate property tax of 2.34 per cent.
Broken down, the increase consists of two pre-approved, dedicated mill rates – 0.5 per cent of the increase will help fund future recreational infrastructure projects.
That increase was approved last year and will apply to the 2022 budget as well.
The second increase of 0.45 per cent, is dedicated to paying for Mosaic Stadium. The 2022 budget is scheduled to be the last to include a Mosaic Stadium mill rate.
The remaining 1.39 per cent is based on a Regina police budget of nearly $100 million minus a projected revenue of $10,317,600. Regina council approved an increase to the police budget of nearly $4 million Thursday.
The majority of which, will be used for 11 new full-time hires, eight frontline officers and three civilian positions.
“This is a responsible budget that holds the line on civic operations while allowing for significant investment in the community,” Regina Mayor Sandra Masters said.
“These investments are necessary for the continued growth and vitality of our community, and to ensure we have the infrastructure and services in place to support that growth.”
The city says that for the average Regina homeowner, with an assessed home value of $315,000, the 2.34 per cent increase would work out to an extra $4.13 a month on their tax bill or $49.56 a year.
City manager Chris Holden previously noted that the proposed increase is the lowest since 2009, when property taxes were not raised at all.
He said that’s largely due to a proposed 0 per cent increase for civic operations, made possible by $5 million in “cost savings and efficiencies” as well as $15.9 million in federal COVID-19 relief funding.
Total capital expenditures for 2021, meanwhile, are pegged at $132,505,000.
Spending plans include $22.5 million for the Street Infrastructure Renewal Program, $15 million for Wascana Pool (this expenditure includes $12 million from the province through the Municipal Economic Enhancement Program), $13.2 million for transit and fleet replacement costs, $12.0 million for the Residential Roads Renewal Program and $4.7 million for Aquatic Infrastructure.
While the budget may have included the lowest tax increase in more than a decade, it wasn’t without its critics.
Public delegations to the meeting voiced several concerns, including plans for the redevelopment of Wascana Pool.
“The city is supposed to represent what people want,” said delegate Lesley Farley. “Administration acknowledges that it doesn’t address the needs of the lane swimmers and user group.”
Several amendments to the operating budget proposal were brought forward by council Wednesday.
Ward 3 councillor Andrew Stevens proposed moving $500,000 from the city’s COVID-19 Recovery Reserve, in which approximately $14 million is currently available, to support community-based organizations pursuing harm reduction.
“The reserve element of this was not taken lightly. It was with some trepidation I put this amendment in. I think this is an appropriate way of using COVID-19 recovery money,” Stevens said, adding that he thinks all levels of government should be responding to the addictions and overdose crisis.
He said the funds could be used to establish a grant program.
Regina Mayor Sandra Masters questioned whether the city should wait for the federal and provincial budgets to drop before allocating money in such a way.
“Do you not feel that you’re getting out too far in advance, and investing money where money might potentially be coming?” Masters asked.
“I want us to show a leadership role. I want us to take initiative with a particular program. I have no objection to getting ahead of the province on this. I don’t want to keep blaming the province for problems,” Stevens responded.
Masters then suggested that taking such action on a municipal level could influence the response of higher levels of government.
“That’s my issue. I don’t think the province would have any problem whatsoever of downloading some of this funding to the municipal level,” Masters said.
“My concern is to trigger-pull in advance of where they’re going to invest money may result in a redirection of money in terms of what they’re going to invest in which would make us net short in the long run in terms of investing in these programs.”
But Stevens defended his motion.
“It’s an offer to be partners with other levels of government. This, I argue that the human cost of COVID-19 is a priority. We need to act on this,” he said.
Stevens’ amendment passed 7-4.
Ward 7 councillor Terina Shaw, meanwhile, proposed denying a request from Economic Development Regina (EDR) for a one-time grant of $200,000 and instead allocating that money into the sports and recreation stream of the Community Investment Grant Program.
“This is a time to really call for help, and to see the significant impact COVID-19 has had on people with disabilities. We’re not asking to take away money they (EDR) already have,” Shaw said.
According to Economic Development Regina as written in budget documents, the $200,000 would have been used “to sustain salary and benefits for two critical full-time staff to aggressively bid on and secure future events, conventions and tradeshows.”
“If EDR does not invest time and effort now, their ability to compete for and host events in 2022 and beyond will be severely curtailed, significantly impacting economic recovery in this sector. The bid process is ongoing, with other cities aggressively working to attract future events and conventions. Competition is as heavy as it’s ever been,” the explanation continues.
Shaw’s amendment was defeated 6-5.
She then moved to pull $200,000 instead from the Community Investment Reserve. That second motion passed 10-1, with Ward 2 councillor Bob Hawkins being the lone vote opposed.
Ward 8 councillor Shanon Zachidniak suggested that a $339,000 enhancement to winter maintenance be removed. The enhancement adds sidewalks adjacent to transit stops to the listed locations the city is obligated to plow during the winter.
Zachidniak pointed out that in the budget report, the administration wrote that the enhancement would not be required if City Council opted to implement a bylaw requiring all property owners to clear the sidewalk adjacent to their property.
The motion, though, was defeated 10-1 as several councillors suggested the enhancement would benefit accessibility on city sidewalks.
“I absolutely will not support this. It’s worth every penny. We need to do better when it comes to accessibility. This is a step in the right direction,” Coun. Stevens said in response to the proposed enhancement.
Stevens also brought forward an amendment during utility budget discussions.
He proposed expanding access to the city’s Lead Removal Water Filter Program so that residents with proven lead service connections can access the program annually.
Speaking in response to the motion, city administration said the financial impact of the change wouldn’t require a budget increase.
That motion passed unanimously.