Regina residents facing 3.25 per cent property tax hike in proposed 2020 city budget

Regina's administration is recommended a mill rate increase of 3.25 per cent. It's the lowest increase in the last decade, but the mayor still believes it's too high.

Proposed budget to come before council in December

The proposed city budget for 2020 includes a 0.5 per cent tax increase that will be dedicated to a Recreation Infrastructure Program. This is anticipated to generate $7 million by 2024 — when the program ends. (Kirk Fraser/CBC)

Regina residents could be seeing another property tax hike if council approves the $472 million budget put forward by administration on Friday. 

"​Nobody wants to see a tax increase, and yet I think we all want to live in a city that is competitive," said city manager Chris Holden. Holden acknowledged people are facing tough economic times, but he said the increase was needed to maintain the level of services. 

Administration has pitched a 3.25 per cent property tax increase, which would cost the "average homeowner" an extra $67.26 a year. The average homeowner would also pay an extra $49.68 per year for a three per cent increase in utility rates. 

Holden touted the increase as the lowest in a decade. The last year without a property tax increase in Regina was 2009.

Mayor says proposed increase too high 

Mayor Michael Fougere said the increase is not low enough and that while zero is not feasible, it should be "well-under three per cent." 

Mayor Michael Fougere said the proposed mill rate increase of 3.25 per cent is too high. (Kirk Fraser/CBC)

However, he said he didn't want to see cuts to service in order to achieve that lower number. 

When asked about the optics behind his call for a lower increase, he said "there's no denying there's an election coming up next year and this is our chance to speak to what we believe residents want to see and that's part of the mix — no question." 

Holden also addressed questions around the upcoming election. 

"Did we present a lower budget simply because it's election year?" He said. "The answer from the administration is absolutely not." 

Holden said ​2020 is a unique year. 

"Tthere are a number of revenue opportunities that won't repeat in 2021," he said, citing the $12-million boost from the federal Gas Tax Fund and the restoration of the municipal revenue sharing program the province provided. 

"Those things are really what​'s allowing to put a lower mill rate than we would normally require," he said.  

Holden also noted that administration has found $15 million in savings in the last few years — $3 million of which came from overhauling management. The city reduced the number of departments, high-level department positions and manager positions.

Recreational fund

The proposed mill rate increase includes 0.45 per cent used to pay for Mosaic Stadium. New this year is the first of five annual 0.5 per cent bumps for the recently-announced Recreation Infrastructure Program, already approved by council. The city said this will bring in $7 million by 2024. 

Holden said the fund will ensure recreational projects — like pools — can be maintained and prioritized.  He pointed to last year's recommendation to not invest in Maple Leaf Pool because of the cost. Now, $4.5 million is slotted for Maple Leaf Pool in 2020. 

The budget indicates Wascana pool will incur $7.5 million of debt in 2020 and $3 million of debt in 2021.

Overall, operating expenses and revenue are projected to be $472 million, up $16 million from 2019. 

Administration highlighted some spending priorities in the budget: 

  • $96 million for the Regina Police Service (up $3 million).
  • $55 million for parks, recreation, and culture programs.
  • $40 million for Transit Services.
  • $24 million for garbage and recycling collection and waste management.
  • $12 million in community grants.

The 2020 Grey Cup will cost the city around $1 million, with half of that coming from reserves. Holden said the city expects to generate at least $68 million and that they welcome big events like Heritage Classics and Garth Brooks. It's also highlighting: 

  • $30.6 million toward road and street infrastructure renewal ($17 million for residential roads).
  • $12 million for outdoor pools in 2020.
  • $8.8 million to complete the Waste Management Centre.
  • $3 million through the newly established Recreation/Culture Capital Program.
  • $1.3 million for the Regent Par 3 redevelopment.
  • $1 million for the Ring Road Railroad Relocation Project.

Revenue from licenses, levies, fines, fees and charges are down a collective $3.2 million.

Challenges highlighted in the report include the city's GDP only growing modestly, some parts of the economy being expected to face challenges and population growing, driven by international immigration.

People can appear before council on Dec. 9 if they file a written brief with the city by Dec. 3. Residents can read the full proposed budget online.

with files from Kendall Latimer


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