Regina homeowners are set to get a mill rate property tax increase of 2.34 per cent after city council approved the 2021 city operating budget.
This means the owner of a home assessed at $315,000 would see an increase of about $49.56 a year, or $4.13 per month. City administration said the average Regina home owner would pay $53 more in 2021. A mill rate is equal to $1 of tax for each $1,000 of assessment.
Coun. Bob Hawkins said it's the lowest increase since 2009. Council voted on the operating and capital budgets on Wednesday evening and approved both in principle.
The operating and capital budgets were approved in principle as one element — the budget of the Regina Police Service — is set to be discussed this afternoon.
The mill rate increase is made up of previously approved dedicated increases for Mosaic Stadium (0.45 per cent) and the Recreational Infrastructure Program (0.5 per cent).
The rest of the increase (1.39 per cent) is for the $100-million police budget ($4 million more than last year).
The police have asked for nine more uniformed officers and two civilians.
Mayor Sandra Masters said most Regina residents want more officers on the street.
"We know through surveys that it's about 77 per cent of those surveyed want more police officers on the street. They want more police presence," Masters told The Morning Edition's Stefani Langenegger.
Masters said the city has seen about a 20 per cent rise in crime since 2015.
"But it's specific to meth and fentanyl being introduced into our community about five or six years ago now," Masters said. "And about a 120 per cent increase in firearm offences. That a very troubling statistic relative to at least Western Canada in terms of the explosion of firearm presence in our community. "
City councillors previously asked what would happen if there was a zero per cent mill rate increase. City administration said if there wasn't an increase, then $18.5 million in projects would need to be delayed over the next five years, posing a risk to delivering services.
"Capital program deferral will also mean increased unpredictability in operations leading to negative service level implications," the report said.
Admin say budget strikes a balance between money struggles and services
Regina's approved operating budget is $7.5 million — or 1.6 per cent — more than the 2020 budget. The city said the operating budget has expenses of $480 million. The general capital budget was also approved at $132 million in 2021 and the recreation and culture capital budget in 2021 is $5 million.
City administration said it's more important than ever that Regina remains affordable, as people are hard hit by the pandemic, but there are still needs and expectations for municipal services.
"The 2021 budget strikes a balance between supporting evolving community needs during this pandemic and delivering essential municipal services, while also advancing Council priorities," city administration said in a report.
The city budget also includes money to create an "energy and sustainability framework and action plan" with timelines and targets to achieve a renewable Regina by 2050, stemming from a 2018 promise to make the city net zero in emissions.
Delegations' reactions to the budget were mixed. John Hopkins, CEO of the Regina Chamber of Commerce, said he appreciates the budget and "while there are some who are still heavily impacted by COVID-19 the rate of increase is relatively modest."
I would say the tax burden is being given to those who can't take the cost. - Jim Elliott
"I would say the tax burden is being given to those who can't take the cost," community member Jim Elliott said. "This budget is not dealing with the problems in our city when it's fully aware that putting time into the problems is less costly than putting it off."
Elliott said the cost of housing a homeless person, for example, is less expensive than the costs that person would incur in the future.
Florence Stratton said the budget goes against the idea to be more inclusive and vibrant. She asked city councillors to stop creating plans and frameworks and instead spend money on concrete actions.
"The proposed city budget is a huge disappointment," Stratton said.
Administration said it will come before council on March 31 with a proposed new permanent supportive housing operating grant that would be prepared in 2021 and get funding starting in 2022. There is currently a housing incentive policy of $2.5 million.
As well, Coun. Terina Shaw proposed an amendment to allocate $200,000 from the community investment reserve to be used for sports programming for people with disabilities. It was approved 10 to 1.
Economic Development Regina requests increase, PCC remains constant
The city's operating budget also included funding for the Provincial Capital Commission (PCC), Economic Development Regina (EDR) and the Regina Exhibition Association Ltd. (REAL).
The PCC, which operates Wascana Place, had requested a budget of $2.7 million, the same as their 2020 budget. Meanwhile REAL had requested $400,000 from the city in 2021 funding, an increase of $300,000 from 2020.
EDR's had requested a $36,965 increase in 2021 for a budget of almost $1.9 million. City administration recommended this increase be denied and city council agreed. It's new budget will be about $1.8 million, but it was approved for a one-time $200,000 grant to help attract events, conventions and tourism to Regina.