Council Bails On Historic Mill Rate Increase… A Bit

Click me for more city hall stories…The meeting to debate this year’s city budgets didn’t break up until after midnight. And in the end the much dreaded six per cent plus one per cent millrate increase looked more like a 4.9 per cent increase plus one per cent.

Council went rogue on their own budget, basically, shaving off around $900,000 in expenses and drawing off $1 million from last year’s surplus — even though that surplus has yet to be confirmed by an auditor.

Where’d they find all these savings in the middle of the night on Feb. 24 that somehow eluded city hall’s brightest minds over the last several months of budget deliberations?

Well, Councillor Young requested that we postpone the bylaw review process that rounds off the new Official Community Plan that council passed last year. See, according to city manager, Glen Davies, it was likely that city administration wouldn’t have even gotten to that job this year anyway, so it wouldn’t really hurt anyth— Wait, a second. What the hell? Admin were budgeting for a project they probably weren’t going to get around to anyway? And they knew that?

Why was that even in the budget then?

That was the question a frustrated councillor O’Donnell asked while speaking about how he’d be voting against Young’s motion because he thinks it unwise to keep postponing work. His question went mainly unanswered — as in, there was an answer but it was sufficiently vague I don’t remember a word of it… I look at tapes and shit in the morning. Did I mention it’s after 1am?

That saved city hall about $400,000.

Then along comes Councillor Hawkins, surprising everybody by making a motion to roll back the increase in spending on consultants and outside workers. In the budget that line item was going to increase 34 per cent. But city staff are going to have to get by this year with the same amount of cash they had last year.

Christ, who are they going to get to mock up their stadiums and waste water treatment plants? Doesn’t Hawkins know how council’s pet projects are massive employers of outside consultants?

City mgr Glen Davies said that admin would just have to find ways to get by with less but that this move could impact the city’s ability to get work done.

But no matter. Motion passed. City saved $500,000.

On top of this, Councillor Bryce made the motion to set aside $1million from this year’s expected $2million surplus and use it as a one-time revenue source for this year.

All told, that’s $1.9 million saved and that shaved the non-road-maintenance side of the mill rate hike down from 6% to 4.885%.

Other stuff happened. We’ll report on it later. I’m going to bed. Good night.

Author: Paul Dechene

Paul Dechene is 5'10'' tall and he was born in a place. He's not there now. He's sitting in front of his computer writing his bio for this blog. He has a song stuck in his head. It's "Girl From Ipanema", thanks for asking. You can follow Paul on Twitter at @pauldechene and get live updates during city council meetings and other city events at @PDcityhall.

15 thoughts on “Council Bails On Historic Mill Rate Increase… A Bit”

  1. After councilors set the tone of fake fiscal restraint by voting themselves a backdoor raise (in the form of taxpayer funded health plans) they set about to a parody of theatrical budget cutting.

    They cut items that the administration admitted they might not or probably wouldn’t get around to this year.

    Curious that these departments still put that money in their budgets, even after the pretense of working to keep things tight. This strongly hints that it may be time to just impose a 0% increase and go back to these departments so they can use their creativity to figure out how to hold the line rather than how to game the budget.

    They also used surplus money from last year but they will no doubt deceptively tell us this move was a “cut” as well. No, council, that’s not a cut. That’s found money, likely the result of the previous year’s budget padding.

    Anyone could see the proposed budget was padded with a scary increase ripe for trimming so council can strut around about how they listened and they are making the hard choices (all the while safely protected by having to actually listen or actually make any hard choices.)

    Can someone tell us if the city manager has a medical condition that means he can’t function after 5 pm? Otherwise what would explain how he seems to bungle his way through council meetings? This was the latest in a string of questionable appearances. He didn’t seem to be able to follow the proceedings and couldn’t give straight answers. When councilors floundered, rather than use any of his supposed managerial gifts to provide guidance, he just fed them repetitive and cryptic nonsense. He also seemed to be clueless about the difference between capital (buses) and operating expenses (drivers).

    That part came during a whole rabbit hole of a sidebar that Paul will likely cover later on about the crisis situation in paratransit. Apparently four more paratransit buses would fix the crisis. But the problem is being made worse (supposedly) because the province is shortchanging their end and leaving the city to pay for most of paratransit instead of half.

    One councilor proposed a budget amendment to set aside money to buy one more bus contingent on the province volunteering to buy three. Except the province already brushed the city off on this issue last year, and none of the dozens of city managers bothered to actually follow up afterward! Then for some reason the new transit manager couldn’t tell what it would cost to go from three bus drivers to four because it was midnight. Let me ballpark it for you: around one third more. Idea: cut that manager loose and use his salary to buy a paratransit bus. And don’t make it contingent on an unlikely external event.

    Of course the whole hour discussion was meaningless since the old angry councilor whose name escapes me finally pointed out what should have been obvious – that shaming the provincial government with a loosey goosey budget amendment is unlikely to succeed and isn’t really how budgets are supposed to work.

    I’m sure this important paratransit topic will be discussed elsewhere and hopefully John Klein comes around to provide his input.

    Many citizens pointed out the transit service continues to be mediocre to the point where riders only use it out of desperation.

    Jim Elliot posed a question to why the published numbers for the stadium have already changed from $278 to $295 million. Instead of a respectful answer he was nitpicked about how he calculated the percentage difference.

    Chad Novak seemed to be advocating deep cuts to the police budget (I think, I went to the lobby in the middle)

    Collin Stewart said much but communicated little.

    The 1% infrastructure tax grab seemed to be sacred from any real adjustment consideration. There was a lot of circular praise for councilors heroically helping “children not born yet” (how those future babies are helped by streets getting repaved in 2014 was not explained) while there was no mention made of the giant debt being hoisted on these same unborn debtors, nor of the way councilors robbed these babies by quietly voting themselves a juicy raise in the form of taxpayer funded health coverage.

    If you are a taxpayer, you did NOT want to see this sausage being made!

    It would confirm your worst fears about city management bungling and about greedy, uneducated, self-interested politicians who put their personal enrichment, grandstanding and optics ahead of citizen’s interests.

  2. Thank you for sticking around till the bitter end Mr. City Hall. It’s truly amazing that they let this meeting go so long, to effectively come up with nothing really material. I was expecting real debate last night, not just Council bickering about how best to delay spending. This sounds like a family with maxed out credit cards trying to find a way to lower their interest rate by getting a new credit card, or deciding to eat at McDonald’s instead of Earl’s.

    For me, the most effective solution last night would have been to call it a night after the delegations, send Admin back to the drawing board and come back with a more realistic budget. After all, they are the ones that allegedly spent months on this budget, how arrogant is it of Councillors to pick at minimal line items just to save a buck here or a buck there. There were truly viable alternatives, and instead of looking at that, they chose to go an entirely different route.

    I must commend them for at least TRYING to come up with some savings, but realistically, this does nothing more than delay the inevitable. Hopefully today’s Court of Queens Bench decides in favour of the Court Order to deem the 2012 Election null and void, and the taxpayers can get another chance to truly have their democratic voices heard. This Council and Senior Administration need to wake up from the stadium-induced coma they are currently in!

  3. Folks, this all starts back with FIACCO, remember … “vote for me and there will be no new property tax increases, you pay enough already”. Hmmm how do we pay the bills?

    You the voting public blindly bought that line, this also happened on FOUGERE’s watch to boot … he said and did nothing. Now with the referendum VOTE NO to increased water and sewer utilities … again the voting public blindly bought bought in, I won’t even mention the so called city councillors, most don’t have a clue what was or wasn’t regarding the P3 waste water treatment plant? (wait that will also come back on us all $$$)

    So where do we go from here? It’s like Telemiracle … a new total folks, 450 million (in debt) … where are we going? … HIGHER in debt $$$$ (all within ess than 10 years). Thanks for nothing Pat.

    Remember Brad Wall and FIACCO going to Alberta telling all to come back home to Sask. cause the cost of living is cheaper, lots of place to live, plenty of “so called good paying jobs” etc. etc … 6 years later those words mean nothing to most in this city who are struggling to make ends meet.

    Now WE are ALL in this neck deep because of the poor decision making and blind voters. Don’t complain Regina because the cost of living is now out of control, property taxes and utility rates are on the rise and will continue, the stadium and waste water plant P3 final numbers have yet to come in ($$$$$) along with hundreds of millions of your tax dollars that will soon be directed to banks elsewhere, rising rental rates and on and on.

    The people who voted for FIACCO, FOUGERE and councillors are just as responsible for this finacial mess we are all in.

  4. Sure sounds like a real gong show at city hall that isn’t going to get any better. Out in the real world City police are writing tickets full force (note 5 patrol cars on RR North all stopping motorists exceeding 100 Km/hr – a cash grab.) Patrolling school zones and busy residential areas is the right thing to do, but they can turn over so many more tickets nailing people for driving 111 km/hr out in the open….and they are.

  5. Thanks for waiting for my thoughts, Reader. I have more on the way on my blog regarding the disgrace of ParaTransit, and the shameful way most Councillors handled the issue last night (and the past few years). Hawkins, the angry guy, started to question if we could put a potential expense into a budget. What if it doesn’t get spent??? *faceplam, but running out of palm for my face*

  6. As Tundra and Chad have pointed out, we have too many police officers in this city, and not enough people like the things they are doing. We should simply pay millions less each year for them, so they start doing things people want (like finding stolen property), and stop wasting money doing things people hate (handing out cash-grab traffic tickets, and banging down doors looking for pot).

  7. West58 – allow me to challenge the myth that Fiacco actually kept the no tax increase promise.

    Maybe someone has the actual figures, but as I recall, he merely did over-sized tax increases every 2 or 3 years, and his fans are choosing to remember the in-between years.

    I could point out that under Fiacco, we had boom times with a massive real estate revaluation that brought windfall revenues to the city, along with a new strategy of massive debt accumulation, meaning that even maintaining a zero mill rate increase would have been a huge under-achievement at best.

    But who am I to dilute the folklore about St Fiacco with an ice cube of facts?

  8. Chad: you are correct in saying that the time for hand wringing by our idiot council should not have been last night, but in the weeks and months leading up to this.

    Indeed there was no substantive effort to hold the line on anything major. One naive councilor made the comment that growth costs money, apparently oblivious to the idea that a booming population and tax base should be lowering the burden per capita, not increasing it.

    These marathon meetings keep happening yet our $300,000 city manager hasn’t figured out what I have: hold the bleeding meetings more often. Our councilors spread the lie that they are doing a full time job, even as most of them are unreachable and unaccountable while ost of them focus on their side businesses. They even reinforced this full time mythology by quietly voting themselves a juicy perk normally associated with true full time work.

    Hey council, real full time employees work every week, not just in one big monthly burst.

    I knew going in to this it would be a marathon meeting. Somehow our rock star city manager didn’t.

    What would be wrong Chad’s idea of a two evening meeting? Or for that matter, bi-weekly or weekly meetings? It appears they want the pay and benefits of being full time, while still delivering only a couple days worth of effort.

    For that matter, as so-called full time politicians, how about forbidding them from having any outside interests? Never mind, who am I kiddding… with no outside conflicting interests, who would fund their re-election campaigns?

  9. John, your presentation was subdued, and I did a double take at your closing recommendation.

    I (and I expect any councilors who might have actually been listening) might have focused only on the out of context phrase about saving millions by rejecting the U of R idea.

    I see now it was kind of sarcastic but I think they may have heard the part they wanted to hear. Your subtlety is lost on this council. They really need ideas it to be spoon fed to them. Bright colors and puppets may even be required.

    They don’t seem to understand that as long as they nickel and dime transit, it will forever be a joke of an option. And that you can’t measure the value and potential usage of a joke transit by its past usage.

    This council is too blind to see any connection between residents demanding expensive residential road repairs is because they are dependent on their single occupant vehicles.

    Pretend our transit system could be magically transformed into something useful and desirable – would citizens be as concerned about residential road repairs or issues like downtown parking and meter rates? Probably not.

  10. Wow. So the police pull people over because they’re breaking the law and that’s a cash grab? I’ll never understand how the people in this city are okay with that. I sure as hell don’t want my family’s lives endangered on a public roadway because some teenager in white sunglasses wants to hear his muffler tip get a little bit louder.

    Council is responsible but people voted them in. People voted for Terry Hincks, who apparently thought his motion to delete a revenue line item would somehow save taxpayers money. They elected Fougere mayor after he sat on Councils that voted for three times for zero property tax increases and once for a one per cent increase in the last ten years even as the province and feds were reducing their levels of municipal funding. Can you really blame people with bad ideas and bad records because they got elected on the strength of those bad ideas and bad records?

  11. I’m not sure I’m convinced the policing is too fat. My impression is that during off-hours, there’s a disturbing lack of officers available, yet there’s always abundant police at marquee events or when the mayor is feeling challenged by someone speaking roughly during a council meeting.

    And frankly I don’t have a problem with some revenue based policing. The ring road is already too fast at 100 km/hr, and dumb drivers don’t even realize they are just drag racing to the next red light. I say hand out more speeding tickets until people learn that speeding is dangerous and wasteful. If I could write tickets for stop sign violators, I could easily do a few hundred thousand in annual revenue myself. I also would love to see dedicated officers handing out cell phone tickets by the hundreds until people learn that distracted driving is even more deadly than drunk driving.

  12. Reader, there are more than enough puppets at City Council meetings already.

    My voice was subdued because my voice was almost gone from a cold.

    Glad you caught my sarcasm. Did you catch it also at my .25% increase proposal? The other part about growth that got the chuckles from the gallery is what made it all worthwhile, but so too was the part where I got to imply that Council is made up of “very unwise” individuals.

  13. I was mesmerized by the bard and readily admit I didn’t catch all the sarcasm in the moment, I had to figure it out by realizing there’s no way you would be telling council to save millions by breaking off bus pass negotiations with U of R.

    We have an urban growth situation crying out for a transit solution, but I don’t think all these tiny milli-measures will amount to anything.

    I could be wrong, but I wonder if we need a giant investment in transit to create something so desirable that it becomes a no brainer for people to use it. Then let that loyalty keep it heavily used, well maintained, and turn it into a city feature that becomes sacred… like say a stadium.

    The current strategy seems all negative like jacking up meter rates and getting rid of parking space to cause pain and hassles for drivers. Even if that works, it will only create bitter bus riders. We want happy bus riders. Make the bus something people want to use, not something they use as a last resort.

    I often wonder if fresh eyes could rip up the current transit system and recast it to work better using a similar level of resources. That might be naive, but it’s driven by the knowledge that you couldn’t make it much worse than it is. Maybe the current model is as good as it can be, just not sure about that.

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