Regina's first multi-year preliminary budget includes rate hikes, no housing-first funding

·3 min read
Mill rate increases of 4.02 per cent in 2023 and 3.96 per cent in 2024 are being proposed in Regina's first multi-year preliminary budget. (Kirk Fraser/CBC - image credit)
Mill rate increases of 4.02 per cent in 2023 and 3.96 per cent in 2024 are being proposed in Regina's first multi-year preliminary budget. (Kirk Fraser/CBC - image credit)

Regina's first preliminary multi-year budget was unveiled this week, and includes proposed mill rate increases of 4.02 per cent in 2023 and 3.96 per cent in 2024.

The hikes, as laid out in city administration's presentation to the executive committee on Wednesday, would generate an estimated extra $11.4 million annually.

In 2023, $2.6 million of those funds would go toward community safety and wellbeing, such as sidewalk repairs.

A total of $1.5 million would fall under the "vibrant community" category, which includes on-demand transit service and expanding the community clean-up program.

Environmental sustainability is the preliminary budget's third strategic priority, with $500,000 going toward things like the community building retrofit grant program, and new assets and initiatives for park maintenance.

Ward 8 Coun. Shannon Zachiniak questioned the city administration's proposed investment in environmental sustainability at Wednesday's executive committee, asking why more action isn't being taken to follow all of a consultant's recent recommendations to be nearly net-zero by 2050.

"If we're not willing to follow the consultant's recommendations — which we paid significant money to get — how will we reach this goal?" Zachiniak asked.

"We are doing our best to keep everything moving forward and continue to develop the budget in a sustainable way that's also both responsible to taxpayers and to you as members of council," replied acting city manager Jim Nicol.

Nicol added that city administration is working to reallocate money through efficiency savings, but said inflation and implementing new city programs pose financial challenges.

"This work will not get easier or less expensive if we delay," Zachiniak argued. "We can't afford to put it off — not even a year — or we will not meet our target."

The preliminary budget presentation also outlined a handful of proposed initiatives, totalling $19.7 million, that the city will not consider over the next two years due to funding pressures. That includes free transit options for teens and seniors, and housing-first initiatives to address homelessness.

Ward 6 Coun. Dan LeBlanc took issue with the omission of the homelessness initiatives, since council passed a motion in June to move forward with them. LeBlanc said it was his understanding they would be included in the budget.

Nicol said that if housing-first — a $15.4 million annual operating expenditure, plus capital costs — was included next year, the preliminary property tax increase would more than double to 9.5 per cent.

Ward 2 Coun. Bob Hawkins told council and administration that they shouldn't lose sight of what residents can currently afford.

"These are people that are paying very high food bills, who are finding interest rates on their mortgage rising, who are being squeezed by an economy, listening to us talk about a kind of utopian state of budget making — and that's not what we do," Hawkins said.

"I think we should take care that we don't scare people, that we don't discourage investment in the city because potential investors feel that we've lost our minds."

The preliminary budget also listed proposed utility rate hikes of 4.5 per cent in 2023 and four per cent in 2024, largely to help fund upgrades at the Buffalo Pound water treatment plant.

Regina's finalized proposed budget is set to be released in late November, with approval expected in mid-December.

Residents can have their say through a survey on the city's website.