Regina residents will be opening their wallets and paying more for property taxes over the next year.
After about six-and-a-half hours of discussion, city council voted to approve the 2018 general operating and capital budgets. With those come a 4.34 per cent tax increase which translates into another $82.50 a year for the average homeowner with a property value of $350,000.
The figure started out as a proposed 4.86 per cent hike on the advice of city administration.
Much of the initial budget administration proposed remained the same. However, after nearly 10 delegates spoke, several of whom asked for the increase to come down, amendments were quickly introduced to have that tax number lowered.
Those amendments came from councillor Sharron Bryce.
“I do feel that we’re asking for too much,” she said. “I am, as I always am, very critical about the amounts we spend here in the city.”
She asked for the city to dip into the $6 million surplus from 2017 and take $969,000 to lower the increase. Bryce also asked for an additional $200,000 to bring the number down. The rest of council passed those amendments and the increase fell to its final resting place of 4.34 per cent.
Mayor Michael Fougere thinks residents will understand.
“I hope that they know we listened to them and reduced the mill rate. We’re not going to get to a zero, that’s really impossible to do that but we listened to them and lowered it as much as we could,” he said.
The mayor said services are maintained with this budget. A dedicated one per cent will go towards improving local roads. Money was also approved for cleaning up the old Mosaic Stadium site and on expanding the police service into the old STC bus depot.
Of the 4.34 per cent, about three per cent is directly related to cuts from the province, Fougere said. He added that portion of the increase is based on provincial downloads, citing the province’s decision last year to change grants-in-lieu towards municipalities and the implications over changes to the PST.
Those decisions were made in the provincial budget and it forced Regina council to reopen the books and pass another budget last year.
“I hope that this is the only budget we’re having to do this year,” said councillor Bryce.
Councillor Andrew Stevens was the only one to vote against the budget.
Police Budget Approved
Before the general operating and capital budgets were approved, council also voted to approve the police budget, which sees a 3.1 per cent or $2.3 million increase in the net operating budget.
Councillor Stevens was again the exception and voted against.
Included in police spending was money for a new tactical rescue vehicle valued somewhere in the neighbourhood of $320,000 and $375,000. A couple delegations spoke to it being akin to the militarization of police in Regina.
Police Chief Evan Bray said that is not the case.
“I can tell you with a rescue vehicle like this not only is it safer for our citizens in our city, it’s safer for the suspects who are making bad decisions,” he said.
Bray said he wanted to hire more police officers but ultimately the city said no. He said he wants to eventually grow the service by 34 officers, saying that the police to population ratio hasn’t kept pace because the city is growing so fast.
In the future, Bray said he’d like to establish a five-year plan to address the staffing shortfall. The chief estimated, for example, four officers would cost $480,000 when taking into account wages, benefits, and things like pensions.
Bray said crimes related to gang issues, drug issues and gun issues continue to be a reality in the city.
“We’re seeing on a daily basis, and I mean daily basis, guns being seized in our community,” he said.
Bray also pointed out how some aspects of what police have to spend their money on are important but annoying.
“It’s annoying to me how much computer programs cost,” admitted Bray with a smile.
For example, he said renewing a Microsoft agreement costs s much as two police officers. But he said these types of programs are needed to effectively and efficiently carry out their jobs.