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Regina budget passes with 2.85 mill rate increase

Also a three per cent utility hike, as an exhausted City Council finally ends deliberations after four long days.
Mayor Sandra Masters speaks to reporters following approval of the 2024 budget in Regina.

REGINA - After a four day long deliberation process at Regina City Hall that could only be described as exhausting, city council has approved its 2024 budget in its entirety.

In the end, Regina City Council approved the 2024 operations and capital budget as amended, with a mill rate increase of 2.85 per cent — higher than the originally proposed 2.20. A Utility budget with a three per cent hike on the base tax also got the go ahead. 

“People are tired, they’re hungry, staff has been here a long day, Christmas is pressing, I’m prepared to call a question on the main motion,” was the quote from Councillor Bob Hawkins as he called for a final vote on the operations and capital budget Monday. 

It was a sudden end to what seemed a long, never-ending deliberation over four days — one more than previously scheduled for the budget discussion. Afterwards, reporters in the post-budget news conference made much of Hawkins’ comments by suggesting council members passed the budget because people were “tired and wanted to go home.” 

While Mayor Sandra Masters acknowledged council “was pretty tapped” after hours of debate, she suggested the real reason was because people on council could “read the tea leaves” on how it was going. 

“I think what you saw were six members of council were going to pass the budget, and so I think you just saw concession on the other side to say okay, we could be done.”

Among the items touted by the city as part of the budget was a $1.01 million capital investment in the YWCA building project, as well a 0.03 per cent mill rate increase to support cold weather strategy initiatives through the Community Investment Grant. Other projects included for 2024 include Dewdney Avenue Corridor Rehabilitation, facility upgrades for bus electrification, and a new indoor aquatic facility, among others.

But a no go for 2024 are a number of downtown infrastructure initiatives that administration had proposed to push back into the future, including the 11th Avenue and Saskatchewan Drive revitalizations. 

It was the fate of those projects, and also a sense of dissatisfaction over the budget process in general, that touched off a voting stand-off between council members over the course of the final two days in particular.

Monday saw more motions from Councillor Jason Mancinelli after his near-successful attempt Friday to refer the budget back to administration for a late January meeting, only for council to narrowly walk back that decision soon after.

Mancinelli tried again with a different referral motion Monday afternoon. That was again defeated 6-5. 

When that failed, Mancinelli moved a lengthy amendment that would have given the go-ahead to various long term projects including 11th Ave. and Sask. Drive. For the most part, those also failed.

“I think fundamentally he was looking for more investment downtown,” said Masters. “I think fundamentally that’s what he kept picking away at.”

The procedural tactics did not end there. As debate moved into the dinner hour, Councillor Hawkins made multiple motions to try and recess the proceedings for the night. Attempts to recess to the next day, and to early January failed.

After council huddled behind closed doors for several minutes, Hawkins tried another motion to recess to a date selected by the City Clerk. 

That also failed, at which point Hawkins finally threw in the towel and called for it to go to a final vote.

The vote on the operations and capital budget passed 7-4. Councillors Mancinelli, Hawkins, John Findura and Mayor Sandra Masters cast the only no votes.

As for why Masters voted the way she did, she said she “agreed fundamentally with Councillor Mancinelli.”

“I didn’t want to see money pulled out of downtown. I think that’s an error. I didn’t want to see a lack of asset management planning. I would’ve taken perhaps some of the other spend for the allocation of projects and used it differently.”


Utility budget passed

Earlier that afternoon, the Utility budget was passed, after council voted in favor of a water rate increase for 2024 of three per cent on the base utility rates, and four per cent on the consumption-based utility rates. Council settled on the three per cent after Councillor Findura had made a motion to try and lower the proposed base rate from four per cent down to two; in the end Mancinelli offered a friendly amendment to settle on the three per cent rate, and that is what passed at council. 

Not passing was an amendment from Councillor Shanon Zachidniak to increase the rebate for lead pipe connections to $350 per household, from the current $100. That didn’t go through, much to the dismay of Trish Elliott of the Get the Lead Out Committee.

She called the amendment “a very mild version of what we were asking for” and was surprised it was defeated. 

“It was not some thing that would cost the city any more than what was already budgeted, and that’s the part that absolutely astounds me.”


Many tense moments during a chaotic four days 

Monday’s decision puts an end to four days of raucous and emotional discussion, with tempers flaring up at several points during debate. 

One of the more tense moments came last week, when Councillor Terina Nelson exploded at the rest of council over a proposal to delay the accessibility elevator at Wascana Pool, saying “this is politics and it makes me sick.” 

Another moment came when Nelson questioned REAL CEO Tim Reid over the MNP report and whether he told his staff he would “punch MNP in the face.” That was a statement Reid denied. 

Councillor Hawkins also had his dustups over the REAL issue. He fired back at City Manager Niki Anderson’s remarks about “theatrics” in the public domain about REAL, pointing to letters from the former board chair. 

Hawkins faced accusations of being out of order when he responded it was “unworthy of the City Manager when she refers to the theatrics in the media and implicate some of the most prominent respected citizens in our community.” 

Hawkins would also later characterize the new REAL board, full of city employees including Anderson as chair, as “illegally constituted” and rife with “conflict of interest.”

Hawkins also was taken to task Friday on a point of order from other councillors who accused him of taking a rude and disrespectful tone Friday while grilling city officials on numbers regarding the increase facing residents. Hawkins replied by saying “you won’t find one word that was disrespectful.”

In the end, after long hours and a lot of emotion, a budget has finally been passed. According to the city’s news release, what the budget means for the average homeowner is that a property assessed at $315,000 will see an increase of $19.79 per month between their property tax ($5.57), utility rate ($5.70) and waste services costs ($8.52).

As well, as of Jan. 1 garbage, recycling, and food and yard waste will go to a user pay model and charged on the Water and Waste bill, with the mill rate being reduced 3.09 per cent to reflect the change.