REGINA - Regina city council moved forward with the second day of budget deliberations on Thursday, following a long and eventful first day on Wednesday.
The main activity at council Wednesday was the approval of the budget for Regina Police Services. Police Chief Evan Bray appeared before council as the police service sought an increase to their net operating budget of 5.7 percent in 2023 and 5.8 per cent in 2024. The net operating budget was $98,123,200 in 2023 and $103,820,000 in 2024.
In the end, council voted in favor of approving the operating and capital budget for 2023 by a 7 to 4 vote, with councillors Andrew Stevens, Dan LeBlanc, Cheryl Stadnichuk and Shanon Zachidniak casting no votes. Council unanimously voted to receive and file the operating and capital budget for 2024.
The approval was in line with the budget unanimously approved by the Regina Board of Police Commissioners, although there were concerns expressed from some councillors Wednesday about the size of the increase. There was also talk about whether support for the police might take away from funding that could go to address social issues.
"I keep hearing the words either-or," said Mayor Sandra Masters. She pointed out their 2018 plan to address homelessness had a target of 80 affordable housing units a year and "yet we've done triple that," she noted.
"To say that the city is doing nothing is offensive to me. In fact we're going above and beyond," said Masters, who cast one of the "yes" votes.
On Thursday morning, council resumed hearing from the over 80 delegations that are expected to make presentations during budget deliberations.
To lead off discussions Thursday, council was hearing from Chris Lane of Economic Development Regina and then Jenna Schroeder from the Provincial Capital Commission to lead of the discussions for the day. Representatives from REAL District also were presenting that morning.
Council also heard from delegations speaking on Regina Public Library, fare free transit for those 18 and under, as well as the Prince of Wales Drive extension and the Arcola Avenue corridor study.
Right now, the proposal before council from administration calls for mill rate increases of 4.67 per cent for 2023 and 4.66 per cent for 2024. That remains the recommendation, following a court ruling released during the first day's deliberations.
A major development on Wednesday was a King’s Bench court decision to reject the mandamus application from Councillor Stevens and co-applicant Florence Stratton against City Manager Niki Anderson, which would have required her to include homeless funding in the 2023 budget.
A line item to address the homeless issue using a Housing First model had not been included in the draft budget, with administration indicating mill rate increases required for it would be 21.73 per cent in 2023 and 4.24 per cent in 2024. Councillor LeBlanc had argued for the unsuccessful application in court the previous day.
The early indication is that the issue of whether to include the line item in some form in the budget will be raised again during council deliberations this week.