Mayor Sandra Masters did not mince words about the proposed mill rate increases for the upcoming 2023 and 2024 budgets.
“I am extremely frustrated by a number of things right now,” the mayor said Tuesday after the numbers were revealed.
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Chief among those frustrations is the proposed increase to the mill rate of 4.67 per cent in 2023 and an additional 4.66 per cent increase in 2024.
Given rising costs, the mill rate should go up a little bit every year but “if we don’t grow we die,” and the mayor feels growth has been stagnant in a number of areas, like attracting people to the downtown, or attracting workers and capital to the city.
“In the last 10 years, we just haven’t been growing at a pace which supports that jump to the next phase of a city,” said Masters.
As for the hit to the average pocketbook, the mayor said given the current rate of inflation, the city is slightly ahead, but still, she said her aim is to lower the current proposed rate so it can be “more easily absorbed.”
Masters said a big part of the city costs are salaries for city employees and police. The aim, she said is not to cut those positions but there is a tightrope to walk.
“They don’t want property taxes to go up but they don’t want services to be cut either,” said Masters. Once touted as a platform plank during her mayoral bid, Masters said she still feels there is efficiency that can be found at the city, questioning whether the proposed budgets were “aggressive enough.”
Masters suggested that full-time positions that have been vacant for four months with the city might be better earmarked for other matters. The mayor also mentioned an amount of “bureaucratic fluff” within city hall. An area of potential cuts comes from consultants but, sometimes, Master’s said those fees are necessary.
For 2023, 2.29 per cent of the increase is attributed to “civic operations and strategic priorities” and 0.5 per cent of the increase is from the recreational infrastructure dedicated mill rate and 1.88 per cent of the increase is the police budget.
In 2024, those same areas are responsible for increases of 2.18 per cent, 0.5 per cent and 1.98 per cent.
For a home assessed at $315,000 this would mean an average increase in property tax of $104.64 in 2023 and $109.32 in 2024.
A proposed utility budget increase of 4.5 per cent is also proposed in 2023 and another increase of four per cent in 2024. On average, that would be an increase to water bills of $87.94 per cent in the first year and $79.29 in the second.
Including the proposed mill rate hike and utility rate increase, Regina residents could end up paying approximately $192.58 more a year in 2023 and $188.61 on top of that in 2024.
Some of the areas of spending include $20.6 million for facility upgrades to support city bus electrification and $2.2 million for upgrades to advance the Renewable Regina 2050 goal , according to the city.
Other line items include $458,000 in annual funding plus $365,000 capital funding for the city’s Winter Strategy, $646,000 for an “On-Demand” transit service and $8.6 million for the proposed Indoor Aquatic Facility .
This will be part of the city’s proposed $84 million in “key capital and operational investments,” according to Barry Lacey, executive director of financial strategy and sustainability.
On the increases being proposed to Regina residents, Lacey said “the city, just like residents and businesses, are facing an inflationary increase.”
Back in September, city administration put forward a proposed mill rate increase of 4.02 per cent in 2023 and 3.96 per cent in 2024. A couple of things drove the budget up like the Regina Police Service budget was “slightly higher than some of the estimates” the city made back in September and partner organization budget asks being underestimated, said Lacey.
The mill rate increase related to civic operations and strategic priorities is geared toward community growth and quality of life increases, according to Lacey.
“This budget makes substantial investments into a number of new initiatives that I think advance Regina overall with respect to quality of life and livability,” said Lacey.
Also touted on Tuesday, the city’s five-year general fund capital plan will spend $741 million between 2023 and 2027, with $157 million earmarked for 2023.
One high point mentioned by Lacey is that the city will take on no new debt in 2023.
With respect to the decision not to include the plan to end homelessness on a housing-first basis in the proposed budget, Masters said she felt it was the correct decision.
“I think it’s beyond our jurisdiction,” said Masters.
The mayor said “we have very hard edges around our budgets,” saying the city is required to balance its budgets.
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According to the city, a proposed motion to address homelessness would cause a mill rate increase of 21.73 per cent. City administration did not include the proposal as part of the budget.
The plan lays out the costs of building 488 supportive housing units at $98 million and $25 million in annual operating costs. At the moment the city invests $7.9 million in programs.
Lacey said this matter was “best addressed by multi-levels of government working together,” and not solely the city.
Housing affordability was a chief concern for Regina residents polled “far beyond the mandate that we’re given as a city.”
Masters said roads, park spaces, delivery of water, picking up waste, policing and community safety are the mandates and focuses of the city.
“Beyond that is an overreach at a time when we can’t overreach,” said Masters.
Asked what the city can do, the mayor said the plan is to maintain what they’re doing.
To fund things, property taxes will generate 55 per cent or $297 million of the $542 million operating revenue proposed in 2023, which is an increase of almost $30 million over 2022.
Revenue through property taxes is up 5.7 per cent over the previous year.
According to the proposed budget, projected general operating revenue and expenditures for 2023-24 are set at $541 million, which is an increase of $30 million — 5.9 per cent — from 2022.
The 2023 and 2024 budgets will be considered by city council on Dec. 14 with Dec. 15 and16 also reserved should discussions take that long.
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