City of Regina administration presented its 2022 budget update at city council's executive committee on Wednesday, which includes a preliminary 4.85 increase to the mill rate.
The increase to the mill rate — which determines the tax per dollar of a property's assessed value, expressed in "mills," with one mill equal to one-tenth of a cent — is more than double the 2.34 per cent increase in 2021.
Administration says no work has been done yet to determine the impact a 4.85 per cent mill rate increase will have on an average home owner.
Many city councillors said the increase is too high and suggested reprioritizing which programs need to get started immediately, which can wait and which can be funded over time.
Energy and sustainability were top concerns throughout the budget talk.
There is currently no money set aside in the recommended budget for the city's upcoming energy and sustainability framework.
City administration says it is waiting until a draft on that framework is seen by council at the end of the year.
The City of Regina has set a goal of operating on 100 per cent renewable energy by 2050.
The energy and sustainability framework will outline guiding principles, community and municipal-wide action plans and timelines and targets necessary to achieve these goals, according to the city's Renewable Regina information page.
"I know that there will be loud pushback from the community at anything like 4.85 per cent … a rate increase. So we've got a dilemma here," said Bob Hawkins, councillor for Ward 2.
"We've got good programs that cost money, we've got inflation rising, we've got COVID going and we've got to pay for it."
The administration has to continue to look for inefficiencies in ongoing programs, Hawkins said.
"I remember that the number was $15-million for the last three years of inefficiencies that were found internally," he said, adding efforts to find those inefficiencies need to accelerate.
"And when it's accelerating, I think it may mean that you have to tell us that certain things we have always done have fallen on the priority list or maybe shouldn't be done at all."
Money found through that process could be redirected to more important priorities on the budget list, he said, such as the community wellness plan and the recreation plan for people with disabilities.
But Hawkins said that most importantly, environmental issues need to be treated, and funded, as an emergency.
"It's time we put our money where our mouth is. There can be no more waiting for another year to see if we can figure out what to do and then maybe later on finding money for it," he said.
"We have to act in anticipation of what needs to be done in terms of Regina 2050."
Search for solutions
Ward 3 Coun. Andrew Stevens suggested councillors ask their departments to bump the projects that have good environmental implications to the top of their priority list.
Hawkins said one of the most important documents the council is going to see this year is the energy and sustainability framework.
"I'm hoping that that's just not another plan to have a plan to have a plan. I'm hoping that it is not only a framework, but a framework full of specific environmental measures and programs that the city can take."
He encouraged those in charge of the 2022 budget to read the draft before it reaches city council in December.
"Read where that plan is going and already attach numbers to make those specific projects real in 2022."
In a press scrum following the executive committee meeting, Mayor Sandra Masters said she believes the energy and sustainability framework will be added to the budget. A community forum held Tuesday evening indicated that the public wants to see environmental action taken sooner rather than later, she said.
"It's everything from naturalization of perhaps some park space to reducing the city footprint in different departments ... [and] now we have an understanding of our utility usage. And so how can we bring that down and then continue to go bigger beyond that?" said Masters.
"I think council is signaling that we don't want to wait until the 2023 budget to have some initiatives. We would like to look for them in 2022."
Feedback from residents
The 2022 budget report also outlines half million dollars for a harm reduction program and $2.3 million to fix sidewalks. The Regina police budget is not yet outlined in the report.
Between July 14 and Aug. 6, the city asked for feedback from residents on next year's budget. More than 1,300 people took part in the survey. Seventy-three per cent of the respondents to a survey said road repairs were their No. 1 spending priority.
Coming in second with 67 per cent was public safety, crime and policing. Recreation and culture facilities ranked third with 48 per cent, replacing snow clearing.
City council is officially expected to review the 2022 budget on Dec. 15.