Next year could be a costly one for homeowners in Regina as a proposed budget for 2019 included a property tax increase and a water rate increase.
The preliminary budget, put out by the city’s administration, would increase mill rates by 4.7 per cent. That would mean another $7.77 a month on the property tax bill for the average home worth $350,000.
The increase would help pay for the $18 million increase in the city’s general operating budget.
The biggest piece of that budget is maintaining roads in the city, worth about $49 million. Large expenditures also include $49 million for community services, like sports, culture, and recreation, and $26 million for transit services.
The full budget for the Regina Police Service hasn’t been submitted to the city yet, but in this budget it’s projected to take up about $83 million. When the city broke down the mill rate increase, it said 1.35 per cent of it was for the Regina Police Service.
The document isn’t the final budget. City councillors now have a chance to look at it and propose changes they want to make. The public can also check it and bring its concerns and suggestions to council.
That budget meeting will be held Dec. 10 and possible Dec. 11 as well if needed.
Mayor Michael Fougere said he’s going to focus on how to reduce the mill rate increase.
“It’s about affordability. It’s a balance between paying for services and then the ability to pay for that as well. That sweet spot is going to be something we’ll have to look at.”
Utility rates are also poised to go up. The proposed operating budget for the utility fund includes a three per cent rate increase for each of the next three years.
That would be worth about $4.14 a month on the average utility bill as of Jan. 1, 2019.
The 2019 utility fund budget is worth about $139 million, which includes $58.5 million for capital investments.
One of the major water projects highlighted in the budget is upgrading existing water metres in Regina homes. The planning and design is set to happen next year.
Plans in the utility budget also include infrastructure renewal like drainage system upgrades and improvements.
The city’s administration said several times that the city’s water plan is a user-pay system, which means calculating the full cost of each building’s utility usage. It also said the three-year plan will provide predictability for customers.
Fougere said he believes it’s prudent to have a three year plan. As for the increase, he said the city has to find a way to pay for infrastructure renewal.
“I think (the water rate increase) is certainly affordable compared to what we’ve had in the past.”
He pointed out the proposed increase for Regina water rates is less than the 9.25 per cent increase proposed in Saskatoon’s budget. But, according to sample rates for 2018 provided by the City, a residential customer in Regina could pay $370.06 more in total annual utility charges than a customer in Saskatoon.
Regina water park
The proposal also included plans for an outdoor water park, what city administrators called an outdoor destination aquatic facility.
It would replace Wascana Pool, which is near the end of its useful life. A water park could include water slides or a zero depth entry pool.
Regina’s city manager, Chris Holden, said the current pools in the city aren’t meeting our needs, and as people travel more and see what other cities have to offer, they’re expecting more from city facilities.
The proposal includes $1.5 million for the design of the facility next year, and could require another $15 million over the next two year for construction in 2020 and 2021. The facility would be expected to be finished during the summer of 2021.
Holden said it could balance leisure, fitness use and aquatic competitions like diving.
This will be part of the recreational master plan which will be brought forward in early 2019.
Fougere was excited by the idea.
“When people think of infrastructure, they may think generally of pipes in the ground and roads, which is obviously what it is, but it’s also infrastructure for recreation as well, and that’s important for quality of life. So I think this is a huge priority for us.”