Rock, glocks and cops: feel free to check out any time you like

City Hall | by Paul Dechene

You’ve heard of the Eagles? They’re that band from last century with that one good song. (“Journey of the Sorcerer,” a.k.a. “The Hitchhikers’ Guide To The Galaxy Theme”) Seems they’re coming to YQR next year to headline the Memorial Cup, and many cheers went up on social media when Mayor Michael Fougere made the Dec. 4 announcement alongside Cup committee chair Shaun Semple. Personally, I’m less than enthused by the news and not just because I live within the blast radius of this concert. I’ll also have to sit through the council meeting when we’re told Mosaic 2.0 is a big success because, in addition to 10 football games in a year, they booked The Eagles!

I’ll be sure to report on how that turns out. Just like I’m going to report on some of the highlights from council’s Nov. 27 meeting, riiiiiiiight now…

Life In The Bus Lane

Were you hoping the Saskatchewan Transportation Corporation depot on Osler Street would once again be the Regina nexus of a provincial bus fleet? Allow me to stomp on that hope. Your municipality just bought it, but they’re not going to use it for what it was built for.

The plan is for the former depot to become the expanded headquarters of the Regina Police Service (they’ll retain their old headquarters across the street). The city has budgeted $37 million to buy the building and connected parking lots, and to revamp the facility to suit the police service’s needs.

City administration estimates buying the STC depot is about $100 million cheaper than building a new facility to replace the RPS’ current headquarters.

The purchase will be covered by drawing funds from two city reserves: half from the Asset Revitalization Reserve and half from the General Fund Reserve. This will leave the latter reserve with a balance of $3 million, well below its $22 million minimum. This could pose problems in the coming years as the General Fund is the city’s only source of discretionary cash that it can use to cover unexpected costs and for buying things like new buildings for the police service when they pop up on the market.

Ironically, drawing down reserves is exactly what Brad Wall exhorted Saskatchewan municipalities to do when his government suspended the grants-in-lieu program and left Regina with an $8.5 million shortfall. Good thing the city refused to budge when they redid their own budget, otherwise it would have been more difficult for the city to take advantage of this opportunity without going into deficit like a… well, a provincial government.

Already Gong

You may not get your provincial buses back, but take heart, you will get your bells. Council approved up to $350,000 from the 2018 capital budget to restore and re-install Regina’s Glockenspiel.

The Glockenspiel was erected in Victoria Park in 1986 by the Regina Multicultural Council in celebration of the province’s 75th anniversary. Its 23 brass bells were made in Germany and weigh between 40 and 117 pounds each.

Fun fact: throughout much of the Glockenspiel’s history, the music it played was controlled by a Commodore 64 — a fine gaming computer.

Unfortunately, when the city began construction on the City Square Plaza in 2010, they removed the Glockenspiel. The granite base was demolished while the bells and steel frame were placed it storage.

Public outcry in 2016 (sparked by a post about the lost Glockenspiel by local blogger Kenton deJong), put the landmark back on council’s agenda but a cost estimate of $500,000 at the time was deemed too expensive. At council’s direction, however, the Glockenspiel restoration was put out to a competitive bid and after community consultation, McGinn Engineering & Preservation, was able to get the cost down to the cheaper $350,000 price by changing up the granite base for one made of concrete with bronze details.

Tax It To The Limit

Milton Heights, a registered charity that provides below market rate housing for low-income families, seniors and people with special needs, came to council looking for some help with the 40 per cent property tax increase they faced in 2017.

Milton Heights went home disappointed.

To be fair, the tax increase is consistent with what other multi-family buildings faced after 2017’s reassessment. Still, the 40 per cent increase has been a hit for the non-profit. Nevertheless, it was only seeking a phase-in of their property taxes, not an exemption: Milton Heights wanted a reduced 20 per cent increase in 2017 and 2018, and would pay the full 40 per cent increase in 2019.

City administration estimated the cost to the city would be $19,289.

Small change, but while many on council expressed the difficulty of the decision, after a split vote, the Milton Heights property tax phase-in was denied.

Working against Milton Heights were concerns that granting such a phase-in could Set A Precedent*, and other multi-family buildings in similar circumstances would be able to come forward and demand the same tax breaks. And with over 20 Regina properties providing affordable accommodations through Sask Housing that may warrant a similar phase-in, that could add up to a significant hit to the city’s revenue.

Apparently, even for a service as valuable as supportive, below market rate housing, council deemed the risk too great.

Hotel Curlifornia

Hey, remember when council decided it so valued a thriving curling scene it gave two curling clubs — the Tartan and the Highland — property-tax exemptions for 2015 and 2016? And then again, at a meeting this summer, council gave out tax exemptions for 2017 and 2018? We have a grand total: curling’s exemptions will dig into city revenue by over $110,000 over four years! Rock on, Regina.

* One could, in theory, declare a drinking game where a shot is consumed whenever a Regina politician uses this excuse to turn down a non-profit’s request, but we don’t think alcohol poisoning is a game.