This Week at City HallThe municipal election was almost a year ago — meaning we’re 10 days shy of one quarter the way through this council’s term — but I don’t think I’ll feel like this group of councillors has fully arrived until Ward 4’s Burnett stops mentioning how he’s a new councillor every time he takes the mic for more than a couple seconds. Last night’s moment of subtle self-deprecation* came as he was closing debate on a recommendation that the classification of “rooming house” be removed from the zoning bylaw.

That was the big contentious issue on the council meeting agenda and the one that was full of the most surprises for me.

If you follow the twitter account I use to live-tweet council meetings (@PDCityHall) you might have noticed my tweet-per-minute ratio last night was lower than usual. Thing is, I hadn’t read any of the reports before the meeting so I was really struggling to keep up with what was going on. Every second was a moment of discovery and wonder. It was like I was watching a council meeting without even seeing the trailers before hand.

What a roller coaster of emotion! I should do that more often. (Of course, as I learned, it makes paring things down into bite-sized 140 character chunks a lot more difficult.)

Anyway, try to imagine my astonishment when I discovered what staff was recommending about rooming houses. Back in July when the city was holding consultations on the rooming house issue, I came out in favour of the deregulation option in an article in the paper. (A piece which kicked off possibly the longest discussion, in terms of word count, that’s ever happened on our website.)

Here we were three months later and city administration was also coming out in favour of dismantling the current rooming house regulations. And what’s more, council voted to pass the recommendation.

I’m not used to backing the winning horse in a city council discussion.

Of course, things are a little more nuanced than simply “deregulation carried the day.”

The proposed changes to the zoning bylaw also include adding two new building classifications “Short-Term Accommodation” and “Residential Homestay.” Basically what these will do is require anyone who is using their house as, for lack of a better term, an informal motel to make a development application as though they were a bed & breakfast. Apparently, there are people who are advertising their homes online as residential motels and renting out rooms for short periods of time. And that’s been causing a lot of grief to many of their neighbours. By adding these two definitions to the zoning bylaw, that trade should be much more tightly controlled.

But if you’re just renting out rooms in a house you own to people so they have a place to live, or if you decide to get some roommates, you’ll now just be governed by the same rules that apply to home owners and apartments.

Also on last night’s agenda was a motion from Ward 1 councillor Barbara Young requesting administration report on the possibility of developing a long-term plan to repair neighbourhood streets. Young pointed out how most of the calls she receives are about the need for street repairs. And she mentioned how she was even recently stopped in an airport in Vancouver by someone from Regina who wanted to bend her ear about this issue.

I’ll be curious to see what conclusions city admin will offer in this report because my understanding is that the problem with Regina’s residential streets can be traced back to too little money being invested in them.

Last time I wrote on this was back in Nov. 2011 during the 2012 budget process. Here’s what I wrote then

Also looking very much the same this year is the line item for road renewal – work that’s a big priority for Reginans by all accounts. The city will be spending another $17 million fixing streets and sidewalks in 2012. That’s up a touch from the $16.8 million budgeted in 2011 and the $15 million budgeted in 2010 and 2009.

I spoke to Nigora Yulyakshieva, manager of roadways preservation, back in 2009 and she said what was being budgeted then for road repair wasn’t enough.

She’s saying the same thing for 2012.

“Right now at the city we concentrate on taking care of the arterial roads, the high traffic roads,” she says. “We don’t have enough money to look after the residential areas.”

In a press conference after the budget launch, Mayor Pat Fiacco defended the money the city is spending on roads: “One might say, why don’t you make it $18, 19 or 20 million? Well, there’s that balance again of what it is that citizens can afford. But we almost did $17 million last year but this is $17 million that’ll go to additional roads that are going to be fixed. So it’s fixing roads that haven’t been fixed in the past.”

True. But our roads are continuously aging. And construction costs are always going up. According to Yulyakshieva, to get the roads right up to snuff, she’d need $20 to 30 million a year.

“We can always do more,” says Ward 4 councillor and Regina Planning Commission chair Michael Fougere. “But how we can afford to do that on the tax base? We’re trying to balance that off with an aggressive recapping and fixing of streets.”

Things haven’t changed much since 2011.

In the 2013 budget, council allocated $18.1 million to the street infrastructure renewal program. That’s up from the $17 million in 2012 and the $16.8 million in 2011.

But that’s a far cry from the $27 million that the 2011 capital budget indicated we’d need to be spending on road renewal by 2013. (That figure’s from the Public Works Division’s Capital Program Summary chart on page 15 of the 2011 Capital Program report.)

So I think it’s grand that council is getting behind the idea of improving the condition of our residential roads. I just wonder where they’re going to find an extra $10 million kicking around to do the work.

I also wonder, if this is the number one complaint that councillors receive, why have they never raised the street renewal budget above the $16 million to $18 million range? I suspect it has something to do with operation capacity. Too few crews in the city to do the work needed, perhaps? Or maybe the asphalt plant isn’t churning out enough black top?

Hopefully this report Councillor Young’s requested will finally solve these mysteries.

* Here’s the quote [emphasis mine… obviously, since I’m quoting Burnett speaking at council and not something he wrote]: “One thing I’ve discovered very quickly, being a new councillor, is that if there’s an issue that doesn’t sit well with the public, we hear about it very quickly.”

And don’t think I’m running the guy down for frequently mentioning his novice status. I think it’s a champion strategy…