Your taxes are now going up 6.5%, Regina

Regina city council has voted to increase the mill rate another 2.5 points to 6.49 per cent; some programs proposed to be cut have been saved.

Voluntary payment of fines would increase by $10; mill rate would increase by 2.5 points to 6.49%

Last week's city council meeting was unexpectedly adjourned to Tuesday. City council is expected to discuss another 2.5 per cent hike to the city's mill rate. (Trent Peppler/CBC)

Regina city council has voted to increase the city's mill rate an additional 2.5 percentage points, raising it to 6.49 per cent.

In December, the city had approved an increase to 3.99 per cent. The municipal budget had to be re-opened earlier this month due to cuts in the provincial budget. The additional mill rate increase is expected to generate approximately $5.25 million for the city. 

"None of these changes we are making are easy," said Regina Mayor Michael Fougere.

"Not anyone in this room is feeling comfortable right now."

A homeowner with a residence valued at $300,000 would pay an additional $158 per year in property tax with the increase.

Last week's council meeting had a list of 25 programs and services the city was contemplating cutting or reducing. The cuts would have had a one-time savings of $874,500 and an ongoing, yearly savings of $1,692,300.

Of the 25 programs, the city opted to save four: the Playescapes program, the Regent Park Golf Course, continuing conventional bus services on statutory holidays and continued operation of the Leslie Lawn Bowling Greens. 

The four programs combined cost $294,800 per year, savings the city has opted to forego. 

Voluntary parking fine payments increase

The voluntary payment amount for parking fines has increased by $10. Changes will take effect July 1.

In addition to bringing in more revenue, it would provide parking policy with more "oomph," said Coun. Bob Hawkins.

The increase is the first since 2014 and will offset some of the cuts of keeping the four aforementioned programs and services. 

Since 2006, the city has roughly $7 million in outstanding parking fines. Coun. Jerry Flegel said the city should be focused on trying to collect that money instead. 

Coun. Jason Mancinelli was against the idea of trying to recoup money which wasn't being paid in the first place, in reference to the outstanding $7 million. 

"This isn't really a great thing to count on for running your city," Mancinelli said.

City between rock and hard place

Mayor Fougere said this year's budget shortfall won't be as difficult to address as next year's — and he thinks people realize the city is caught between a rock and a hard place. 

The city is facing a $10.3-million shortfall after the provincial government scrapped its grants-in-lieu program, which saw Crown corporations SaskEnergy and SaskPower make payments to cities.

Next fiscal year's shortfall will be larger, at $15.7 million.

"Next year, we don't know about revenue sharing. We don't know about grants-in-lieu," Fougere said. "And who knows what else [the province will change] in their budget next year."

Last week's meeting was adjourned after council discussed cost-cutting measures and heard from a variety of delegations. One discussion topic was an additional mill rate increase of 2.5 per cent. 

"No one wants to see a tax increase," Fougere said. 

The provincial government has repeatedly suggested municipalities dip into their reserve funding to cover some of the shortfall but the idea has not received support. 

Regina currently has $236 million in reserves, which the city says is earmarked for other projects and not for covering operating deficits. 

Dipping into reserves discussed

Councillors Lori Bresciani and Jerry Flegel both proposed dipping into the city's reserve funding. 

Bresciani had proposed taking $3 million from the reserves and reducing the mill rate from 2.5 to 1.5 instead. 

Flegel proposed dipping into the reserves to the tune of $2 million and also raising the mill rate by 3.5 per cent. By doing that, Flegel argued all 25 programs and services could be saved. 

Both ideas were declined as the mayor and other councillors were against the idea of using reserves. 

"Reserves would only be a one-time solution to a deficit hole that will continue year after year," said Coun. Hawkins.  

"If we use reserves this year and the next year, what do we do the year after that?"

With files from Glenn Reid