More money isn’t enough for crumbling Regina streets

by Paul Dechene

Regina’s 2014 draft budget is available and if you’re familiar with the branch of mathematics known as “addition” you might be tricked into thinking that we’re likely facing a seven per cent property tax increase. But you’d be wrong because all the literature that the city has produced on the 2014 draft budget is quite clear: this is a six per cent plus one per cent mill rate increase.

Allow me to explain…

City hall is adamant you understand that the upcoming mill rate increase for all city services is six per cent. But! There’s a one per cent mill rate increase on top of this that’s solely dedicated to repairing the city’s crumbling road network.

See, city hall has finally realized that the state of our roads is most people’s top priority and as such, they want you to know that with this year’s budget, they hear you and are taking your concerns seriously.

How seriously is another question.

Turns out the total amount the city is putting into road repairs is $19.7 million this year. And that’s only $1.6 million more than last year’s $18.1 million investment in road repair. And that $1.6 million is almost exactly what you get from a one per cent mill rate increase.

And, to be fair, this year’s $19.7 million for road repairs is a record for what the city has spent on this line item. However, the increase isn’t even that unprecedented. Looking back over the last few years’ worth of budgets, the city dedicated to street infrastructure renewal $18.1 million in 2013, $17 million in 2012, $16.8 million in 2011, $14.9 million in 2010, $15 million in 2009, $14 million in 2008 and $11 million in 2007. That works out to an average increase in the street infrastructure renewal budget of about $1.24 million a year.

So this year’s $1.6 million increase really isn’t a huge jump over the average annual increase.

In other words, it’s business-as-usual on the road repair front. The budget’s just being promoted differently.

Plus, it’s worth noting another trend that’s continuing is that the city is falling well short of what the city operations division expects it will need to do its job well. In 2013, the city operations anticipated that it should be spending $29.4 million on street infrastructure renewal in 2014.

And that means this year’s record investment in road repair is $9.7 million less than what the department was hoping to get.

All in all, this year’s seven per cent mill rate increase is a pretty daring move for this council. It’s the largest increase by far that the city’s property taxes have faced since at least 2007. But what the city’s investment in street infrastructure renewal shows is if you scratch the surface of the budget, you’ll find that even a seven per cent property tax increase may not be enough.

The draft budget goes before council on Monday, Feb. 24, at 5:30 p.m. in Henry Baker Hall. Be there or be square.