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Regina City Council approves 3.67 per cent increase for 2023

Attempts from Councillors Stevens and LeBlanc to include homeless line item in budget are thwarted.

REGINA - Regina City Council has approved its multiyear operations and capital budget, with a 3.67 per cent mill rate increase for 2023 and a 4.5 per cent utility increase.

The end result saw the final mill rate lowered by a point from the originally proposed 4.67 per cent from administration. While there was an attempt to lower the proposed utility increase, council ultimately accepted administration’s proposal.

The end result concludes a deeply contentious budget deliberation process and was a win for those councillors who voiced concerns this week about affordability pressures facing Regina residents. 

The result also marked a final defeat for homeless advocates and their supporters on council who were seeking a line item for funding using a Housing First model. In the end council ultimately did not include the homeless funding item.

Bresciani motion turned the tide

The key moment of budget deliberations came very early on Friday when a motion went to the floor to lower the operations mill rate increase by a point.

For the operations budget, a motion was brought by Councillor Lori Bresciani to set the increase at 3.67, and to direct administration to implement $2.9 million in internal efficiencies, without negatively affecting the budget. Administration would also bring back quarterly reports outlining their efforts.

As expected, the main challenge came from Councillor Andrew Stevens and Councillor Dan LeBlanc, both of whom had been behind the unsuccessful court application to have homeless funding included as a line item in the budget. On Friday, both attempted to put a motion on the floor to include the funding.

Stevens moved an amendment which proposed replacing the dedicated .5 dedicated recreation mill rate with a .5 Permanent Supportive Housing operating grant annual mill rate increase for five years. 

That drew a decidedly negative reaction from councillors who wanted the recreation mill rate to continue. In the end Stevens’ motion failed by an 8-3 vote. 

Stevens then tried to move the .5 Permanent Supportive Housing grant as a stand-alone without cutting out the .5 recreation mill rate. But the indication from Mayor Sandra Masters was this was going to be ruled out of order, as that would have deviated from the 3.67 mill rate up for discussion from the Bresciani motion that had been moved prior.

In speaking to reporters afterwards, Stevens made it known he felt the way the Bresciani motion was structured curtailed the debate.

“The way the initial motion was crafted around the budget, it actually prohibited and was ruled that any kind of change was ruled out of order unless you can find commensurate cuts in the budget, so we couldn’t even talk about it, or put it on the floor,” said Stevens. 

“That is what I mean by the constraint of democratic debate. This is the last meeting where that should happen. And again, I don’t believe it was deliberately set up to do that, but the effect was the same.”

Councillor Bresciani told reporters there was “no intent to stifle any conversation at all on the floor of council.” She pointed out if her motion was defeated, Councillor Stevens could have brought his motion forward. 

Her intent, she made clear, was to address affordability concerns she heard from residents. 

“I’ve had families say ‘I cannot afford to stay in my home so either I will move, I will try and find a rent, and I can’t afford food if it continues to grow’,” she said.

When asked by reporters about Stevens’ claiming the wording of the motion stifled debate, Mayor Masters replied “sorry, you’re talking about the man who sued our city manager? Yeah, I’m not saying anything.”

Council procedures would later ensnarl Councillor LeBlanc’s efforts to get his motion to the floor. He indicated he wanted to move an amendment which would house 100 people at $2.55 a month average. 

“I think we owe it to the people who came yesterday, the folks dying on the street, the folks in tents right now, to at least have that discussion,” LeBlanc said. 

But LeBlanc’s also acknowledged for his motion to go to the floor, the main motion needed to be defeated. In the end, it didn’t happen.

The final vote on the Bresciani operations budget motion carried 7-4. When the tally was announced, several supporters for homeless funding who were in the audience cried “shame!”. 

When asked about some of the reaction seen to the operations funding vote, Mayor Masters said “it’s a natural outcome when you have an adversarial approach to any topic.”

“To say some folks aren’t frustrated with the way things have been handled over the last couple of months would be untrue.”

The end results disappointed both LeBlanc and Stevens. 

“I said to my wife this morning, if we don’t seriously address homelessness this time around after what happened yesterday, we’re not going to seriously address it,” said Leblanc. “So there is a deflated feeling, certainly.”

“I think that was a historic moment, a historic chance, and we blew it.”

On where they go from here on the homeless issue, Stevens said “me, I go home. Some people don’t.”

“I don’t know what else to say. You know there’s this wish list that somehow the province is going to develop a Housing First strategy… That’s not happening. I think there’s a lot of conversations we are seeing, but we don’t need more conversations. The evidence is there, you need a coordinated system.“

Other budget items 

In addition to Stevens and LeBlanc, Councillors Cheryl Stadnichuk and Shanon Zachidniak had also voted against the motion on the operations budget, Stadnichuk was concerned decreasing the mill rate increase to 3.67 per cent would tie their hands on what they could do, while Zachidniak made it known she was uncomfortable with approving the budget without more clarity on how the $2.9 million in efficiencies would come about.

Zachidniak tried moving a referral of the operational budget back to administration until a report was brought back on the efficiencies, but that lost by a 7-4 vote.

The capital budget approval was a far smoother process, with council voting 10-1 in favor with Councillor Zachidniak the lone no vote. 

The utility operating and capital budget was also approved, but not without some drama. Councillor John Findura had put forward an amendment proposing a reduced utility rate hike of 3.5 per cent, down from 4.5, without negatively impacting operations. But that vote ultimately ended up losing 6-5.

There were also a couple of amendment attempts from Councillor Landon Mohl opposing the fluoridation of water. One would have moved $2.5 million in funding for the Community Water Fluoridation Plan to 2024, essentially moving that previously-approved project back by a year. The motion lost 9-2.

Mohl later tried again with an amendment that would have directed the City Clerk to include on the 2024 municipal election ballot the question “do you want fluoride in the City of Regina’s drinking water system?”. That also failed by a 9-2 vote.

In the end, council approved the original administration recommendation for a 4.5 per cent operating and capital increase for utilities. It passed 8-3 with Findura, Nelson and Mohl voting against.

On the final vote to approve the entire operations, capital and utilities budget, it carried 8-3, with only Stevens, LeBlanc and Mohl against.


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