Funny thing happened to me this morning while attending the launch of the proposed 2010 Regina Budget. Once the mayor had finished taking questions and left the room, there were press scrums with reps from the business community so we could hear their reactions to the budget. It was while John Hopkins, CEO of the Regina Chamber of Commerce, was speaking to us press-types that someone leaned over my shoulder — I won’t say who — and in a voice thick with irony whispered, “Remember Paul, this is the de facto mayor of Regina.”

Ow, snap!

For those who don’t get the joke, that would be a shot at the dog over the Conway column we ran in the last issue. And fair enough. We earned that ribbing. Still, I do wish I’d been able to come up with a witty riposte but my brain’s pretty sluggish at the best of times.

Anyway, Hopkins sure wasn’t talking like some kind of shadow mayor today. Neither was Marilyn Braun-Pollon of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business. They were there to hector city hall from the sidelines over the decision to boost the mill rate.

That’s right, kids, the proposed budget is recommending a 4.5 per cent mill rate increase. For the average household that will mean an additional $4.97 per month — or $59.61 per year — in property taxes. But as the mayor pointed out, this is just a proposed budget. Council will be taking input from the public between now and April 27 when the final version comes forward.

Fiacco reminded us that whenever the city has proposed a mill rate increase in a past draft budget, the amount of the increase dropped before the final version was approved.

A few things came up that necessitated this year’s increase. Most notably, the province reneged on will not at present be following through on a promise to boost the Municipal Operating Grant program. That means a loss of an anticipated $8.4 million in revenue for the city (and that’s equivalent to a 6.6 per cent mill rate increase).

On top of this, the city is facing serious pressure on the infrastructure front. Beyond the usual expenditures for things like road repair and maintenance, a couple big bills are coming up for Regina: a massive expansion of our waste water treatment facilities and the replacement of our landfill. Plus, recommendations from the Downtown Neighbourhood Plan, the Waste Plan and the Transit Action Plan all call for new spending in 2010.

Add on to all this the fact that Regina continues to grow at rates above the national average, and it’s hard to imagine accomplishing all the things the city needs to without some kind of uptick in property taxes. That’s especially true considering the pinch Regina finds itself in on the revenue side.

Still, Hopkins and Braun-Pollon seemed underwhelmed by concerns about the city’s growing infrastructure deficit as they came out to say that even this modest property tax boost is too much. Hopkins even went so far as to suggest a few city facilities we could maybe sell off or shut down to save a few bucks: our lawn bowling pitch and golf courses.

Glad to see the CoC is open to axing some white elephants from the recreation file. I have another one for you, John.

Can you say “stadium”?

Expect more details on the municipal budget in the upcoming print dog (on the street next Thursday). Until then, have your say on the municipal budget in the comments section below. And, soon there’ll be a budget-themed poll on your right. Be sure to cast a vote there.

Oh yeah, if you want your concerns, questions or kudos heard by the people who make actual decisions (as opposed to those of us who yodel our outrage from the wilderness) you might want to contact your city councillor directly. You can find contact info on the city’s website here.

And, to read the proposed 2010 budget yourself, you can find it here.