The City of Regina's proposed 2022 budget includes a property tax increase of 3.49 per cent.
If approved by city council next month, the hike would work out to roughly $6.31 more per month, or $75.72 more per year, for property owners with homes valued at $315,000.
Council is scheduled to deliberate and finalize the 2022 operating, capital and utility budgets on Dec. 16 and 17.
"If we don't raise the mill rate, then that compounds year over year," said city manager Chris Holden at a news briefing Tuesday morning.
"It just puts us in a position where we would struggle to make the capital investments we need to make sure that we can continue to provide services."
Increasing next year's property taxes, Holden added, would allow the city to invest $6.9 million into recreation programs and infrastructure — something he's noticed more residents are getting interested in throughout the pandemic.
"As people stayed at home, worked from home, weren't able to travel, people participated a lot more in what goes on in their local neighbourhoods. They walked our streets more, played in our parks," he explained.
"There is an increased expectation and appreciation for our open space, our park space, our sports programs and our cultural programs. That's why we need to make those investments."
Other "strategic initiatives" the city hopes to make through a mill rate increase include:
$6.3 million for green projects, including $5.5 million to create a household food and yard waste program.
$1.4 million for community safety and well-being initiatives.
$1.2 million to address the backlog of sidewalk maintenance.
$1 million to make leisure activities more accessible for people with disabilities.
City administration is also proposing $136 million in next year's general capital fund for infrastructure maintenance and the renewal of roads, bridges, sidewalks and city facilities. This includes:
$18.2 million for the Street Infrastructure Renewal Program.
$12 million for the Residential Roads Renewal Program.
$10 million for Saskatchewan Drive corridor improvements.
$10 million for the Pinkie Road upgrade (Sherwood Drive to Dewdney Avenue).
$5 million for bridge infrastructure renewal.
Dedicated mill rate hikes for Mosaic Stadium (0.45 per cent) and Recreational Infrastructure Program (0.50 per cent), as well as for the Regina Police Service (1.32 per cent) are included in the overall property tax hike. The 2022 budget is also set to be the last time Mosaic Stadium is incorporated in the dedicated mill rate with the 10-year commitment coming to an end, the documents said.
The police budget, which is expected to be discussed and decided on Dec. 15, is slated to be set at $104 million — $4 million more than in the 2021 budget.
City administration is also proposing a five per cent increase to utility rates next year. Two per cent of that would go toward speeding up the replacement of lead pipe connections, according to the documents.
Residents who are interested in addressing council via telephone during budget deliberations on Dec. 16 and 17 must provide a written submission and phone number to the office of the city clerk by email at email@example.com or call 306-777-7262 by noon on Dec. 9.
New money to help address homelessness
The proposed budget also lists new funding for initiatives to enhance community safety and well-being.
That includes $500,000 set aside for harm reduction and $875,000 toward a new Community Safety and Well-being Plan, which aims to implement a strategy to help the city and community-based organizations address things such as the homelessness crisis.
Holden said it was always the plan to have this money in the proposed budget, but Camp Hope (the tent community formerly set up in Pepsi Park) made it clear this had to be a priority.
"There's different responsibilities at different levels of government — both federally and provincially — but at the end of the day, the realities of our most vulnerable folks are on the streets of our city so we have a role to play," Holden said.
He added that coming up with "more sustainable solutions" after the temporary emergency shelter's six months are up is one of the plan's first goals.
COVID-19's financial hit
COVID-19 is anticipated to cost the city $4.6 million dollars next year, the proposed budget report said.
On top of the loss of revenue, the documents outlined the city plans to spend another $500,000 in expenditures, such as personal protective equipment and extra cleaning requirements.
According to Barry Lacey, the city's executive director of financial strategy and sustainability, there are plans to use the remaining $2 million in the COVID-19 Recovery Reserve with the rest coming from the General Fund Reserve.
"Even as the city and the province continue to recover from COVID-19, the economic and social effects of the pandemic will continue in 2022 and possibly beyond," he said at Tuesday's briefing.
"While the economic environment must be considered for the 2022 budget, the city is also mindful of how decisions today impact the future."