REGINA — In an unexpected move, Regina city councillors opted against a seven per cent property tax increase at its Monday night budget meeting.
After almost seven hours of delegations, debate and questioning, the end number was whittled down to a 5.88% increase for Regina homeowners — or about $96 for the average homeowner.
Of that cash, one per cent will be funnelled into a dedicated reserve fund for residential street repairs in the worst Regina neighbourhoods.
Various members of council admitted the changes came down, in part, to optics.
In a rapid series of amendments in the final hour of the meeting, which felt much like a fire sale of city expenditures, a series of councillors stood to put forward their amendments to the budget.
First was Barbara Young, who proposed delaying the Official Community Plan bylaw reviews, saving $400,000, then Sharron Young suggested putting half of last year’s $2 million surplus to this year’s budget.
Next came Bob Hawkins’ suggestion to cut external contracts to the tune of $500,000, then Terry Hinks put forward the motion to can the commercial business licence fee.
His suggestion ended up being tabled until after more consultation with the Regina business community.
Shawn Fraser was the only councillor who consistently voted against the amended motions, saying he did not find them fiscally responsible.
Councillor Mike O’Donnell also voiced his concerns, telling council “we need to act upon” infrastructure issues facing the city “now” and not wait until next year.
He also admitted to “frustration” at the budget process, saying by cutting budget items “willy-nilly” council was “not doing (its) job.”
“We’re not telling people how much it really costs,” he said, before dropping into his chair and crossing his arms.
Councillor Wade Murray also voiced some misgivings during the final debate, but in the end agreed that “if we can lighten that burden slightly, then we should do that.”
Mayor Michael Fougere encouraged councillors to support all amendments, labelling the 2014 budget a “prudent use of funds.”
“This shows we’re listening to the public,” Fougere said.
“We’re not tearing the fabric of the budget we have here this evening ... so I urge councillors to support this and alleviate the burden on taxpayers.”
While your property tax won’t be going up as high as was expected, you will be seeing your water and sewer rates increase by eight per cent come April 1.
And in 2015, they will go up again.
For the average homeowner, that will be an extra $120 each year.
The utility rate increase, approved after a one-hour debate, will provide $19.8 million to help pay for upgrades to the city’s sewage plant, and will be invested in the repair of underground water and sewer pipes.
Fraser said he supported the plan, because “if we don’t pay for it, we leave it for the next generation” to pick up the tab.
Also passed at Monday night’s City of Regina budget meeting was a $1.5 million upgrade for the Lawson Aquatic Centre to improve air quality in the facility.