A lot of spending, and a bit of saving – that’s what Regina’s city council ended up with after the 2019 city budget was finalized.
Council ended up with a mill rate increase of 4.325 per cent, which is .375 per cent lower than what was in the original proposal from last month. That translates into another $7.14 a month for the average home worth $350,000. The changes to the budget ended up taking $0.63 a month off of the increase.
The lower increase was managed through $300,000 from a surplus in this year’s budget and $600,000 in savings the city’s administration was able to find.
Not all the councillors were interested in using that $900,000 to lower people’s taxes.
Councillor Andrew Stevens though it ought to be saved and invested.
“(The tax reduction is) so insignificant, it’s nothing but optics. It is a rounding error in the most meagre of household budgets. We’ve added new capital. We’ve added new services. We’re costing the city more and we’re not going to be able to save this money again,” Stevens argued during the meeting.
“Now is the time for us to look to the future and not to make a very empty gesture in terms of offering tax relief.”
Stevens voted against both motions which reduced the mill rate, along with councillors Jason Mancinelli and Mike O’Donnell who both expressed similar sentiments about what should be done with that money.
The two motions passed with a wide majority though, thanks to support from representatives like Mayor Michael Fougere and Councillor Sharron Bryce.
“People can’t afford to keep paying more and more and more. They don’t see everything that they’re getting with their tax dollar, they don’t feel they’re getting more with it, yet they’re spending more,” said Bryce.
The city administration found $1.2 million in savings for the budget, but half of it was used during budget discussions in adding things council had been asked for.
The rebate for condo owners who have to pay for their own garbage pickup was reinstated.
City council also agreed to give daycares owned and operated by licensed non-profits a tax exemption “equal to 40 per cent of the taxes levied” for 2019 and 2020. Council decided to send a letter to the province as well, asking them to improve daycare funding in Saskatchewan.
Two-hundred thousand dollars was used to add to the social development stream in the community investment grant program.
Money was also earmarked to go to clearing snow from the 26.9 kilometres of pathways in Regina during the winter.
Council also unanimously voted to take the $60,000 out of the budget that was earmarked to install parking meters near the General Hospital. Nurses said the meters would make the already difficult parking situation around there even worse.
Maple Leaf Pool
It seems the biggest issue for residents in the 2019 budget was the closure of Maple Leaf Pool. Seventeen different delegates signed up to speak on the first night of budget deliberations, asking the council to either replace it or keep the pool open. Those people got their wish.
Council unanimously voted to replace Maple Leaf Pool at the same location, and do it quickly.
Councillor Hawkins brought the motion, with a passionate speech talking about what they’d been hearing from people in that Heritage neighbourhood.
“This is a motion about the poorest of our children amongst us. Tonight we’ve dealt with toddlers, we’ve dealt with condo owners, we’ve looked after the needs of many people. Now, what this motion seeks is that we look after the basic needs of our young people and our teenagers.”
Originally, Hawkins had wanted the pool to be funded with a dedicated mill rate increase, but most councillors stood up against the idea of raising the mill rate again that they’d already worked to bring down.
There was no plan made on how to get the $4.5 million city administration estimates the new Maple Leaf Pool will cost. Some of the discussion on alternatives included using money that was earmarked to turn Wascana pool into a destination aquatic centre.
“We’ve asked the administration with a financial model of how we will pay for both of them,” Mayor Michael Fougere told the 980 CJME Greg Morgan Morning Show.
Construction is expected to be complete on the replacement pool by 2020.
At the end of the night, the utilities portion of the budget was passed relatively quickly, including the three per cent increase to water rates. That would end up being another $4.14 a month on the average bill starting January 1.
Plus a plan for similar increases in the following two years.
Councillor John Findura was the only one to vote against the increases, saying they need to find a way to lower the impact on citizens.
Findura did manage to get a motion passed which asks the city administration to look into what would happen if they lowered the base utility rate and/or shift the cost of consumption. That would come back in time for the 2020 budget.