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Mayor Masters disgusted over court filing on the budget

Mayor Sandra Masters questions court filing by two councillors, after homeless funding is left out of draft Regina budget.
Regina pre-budget Sept. 22
Regina city council is in turmoil over the draft budget released this week. Seen here was the pre-budget presentation in September.

REGINA - Regina Mayor Sandra Masters struggled to keep a lid on her displeasure following a court filing by two city councillors over the 2023-24 budget.

“If you’re asking me personally, I think it’s disgusting,” said Masters after news broke that Councillors Dan LeBlanc and Andrew Stevens as well as local resident Florence Stratton are taking Regina City Manager Niki Anderson to King’s Bench court on Nov. 29, for not including funding for homeless measures in the 2023-24 budget.

When asked about it a City Hall news conference Wednesday, Masters was particularly outraged about the treatment of Anderson, who just started as the new City Manager earlier this month.

"I think that for the first female City Manager there's tones of sexism in it. I question myself, I look at it and go how (are) two parties who are party to a council motion then represented legally. It's a curiosity to me, but that's for lawyers to figure out, not for me. Yeah, that’s what I think. I think there are multiple avenues open. I think it’s in the budget, I think administration was never told to recommend it. Administration’s job is to give advice on their recommendations to council and they did so. Whether or not council accepts them is something else entirely and up for debate at budget. I think if you go back to the transcripts from June 15 council meeting you will see clearly when questioned about it it was simply going to be debated at budget time and be debated.”

In speaking to reporters at City Hall, LeBlanc explained they felt they had no choice but to go to court. 

“I think council has already done its democratic role, which is to provide clear direction to our unelected City Manager as to what we need in that proposed budget. The problem is that that wasn’t followed and from a political perspective we are out of options as to what to get in that proposed budget. And unfortunately, that means only legal recourse is available so the application is necessary. And given the looming date of budget debate, that application was required on an urgent basis. So it’s due in court next Tuesday.”

The whole issue stems from a council vote from June 15 in which council unanimously directed administration to include “full operational funding to solve homelessness throughout the City using a housing first, supportive housing model. This draft funding to be clearly demarcated in a line item of its own.”

However, when the draft budget was presented Tuesday at City Hall, that line item was not included. 

City officials explained the reasoning, with Regina Executive Director of Financial Strategy and Sustainability Barry Lacey telling reporters Tuesday that the mill rate increases required for it would be 21.73 per cent in 2023 and 4.24 per cent in 2024 to cover the cost. 

Administration estimated it would require $98 million in capital investment and $25 million in annual operating costs. 

LeBlanc said one of the issues is “simple democratic accountability. I say elected people run the show and the unelected City Manager follows our clear direction or ought to do so.” 

The more practical point, LeBlanc said, was that if the item is included in the draft budget as directed, "it takes six votes to take it out. If not in the draft budget it takes six votes to put it in. And that stuff sometimes makes a difference.”

On the June motion, which Mayor Masters had also voted in favor of, Masters maintained she hadn't changed her position on it. 

She told reporters “all of council was supportive of the numbers coming forward from administration to be debated at budget. That’s what this support was. It was never anything more than that, and in fact I would encourage you all to go back and read the transcripts which it was confirmed we were not approving anything other than, we were looking for the numbers to be included in the budget book and they have been, and it would be debated at budget time.”

Masters added “we cannot mandate what administration recommends. That is an administrative budget. We were asking for numbers to be considered. Those numbers exist, we can go and look at them and there’s some analysis in the attached report, you can clearly see them. But we did not direct administration to recommend it.”