What Just Happened?

For everyone wondering what’s up at City Hall lately

I’m done my secondment to Prairie Dog’s Tactical Federal Election unit, which — with help from our awesome readers — successfully slew Stephen Harper’s evil Conservative government on Monday Oct. 19. Now? It’s back at City Hall, just in time for a Monday Oct. 26 council meeting. /Paul Dechene

Street Names: No Funky Stuff!

Reports from the Civic Naming Committee don’t usually turn into the big marquee debate of a council meeting. And they aren’t the kind of reports you’d expect would inspire Ward 2 Councillor Bob Hawkins to urge council to do “something new, something funky.” But that’s the kind of topsy-turvy world council was living in on Oct. 26.

At issue were a list of street names proposed by Harvard Developments and Westerra Development Corporation for use in their newest community: Westerra, which is slated to fill the crook south of Dewdney Avenue and west of Courtney Street.

The Civic Naming Committee, however, recommended denial for the entire list and Westerra/Harvard came out to plead their case.

Westerra’s top priority was to get approval for three stupid names: Westerra, Westpark and Westland. They argued street names are “an important driving factor in the successful marketing and selling of our communities to potential residents and business owners” and that having three main roads through their new community sharing the “west” in Westerra would help build a “sense of place” for people moving into a brand-new community.

Council, which perhaps has a few too many unimaginative types on it, found this lame argument compelling and approved those three boring, corporate-sounding names1. But council concurred with the Civic Naming Committee over a list of “Land of Living Sky”-themed names that included Dusk, Eventide, Starburst, Stargaze and Twilight.

Administration argued these names were insufficiently specific to Regina and also noted that while typically developers like to use street names related to flora, fauna, topographical and now celestial features, meanwhile there is a list of 400 unused street names already approved by the Civic Naming Committee.

Many of those 400 names are intended to honour prominent Reginans, local volunteers and members of First Nations communities. City staff noted that developers have been slow to use those names.

And while Councillor Hawkins argued that there are other ways to commemorate people in our community and it was time to get creative with street names, council decided it will not be opening that can of living-sky worms at this time.

This story has been updated since publication.

The Great Escape: Council Breaks Out Of Pension Plan Prison

While the Civic Naming Committee hogged much of the spotlight at council’s Oct. 26 meeting, a report on the civic employees’ benefit plan was passed with considerably less debate — though it received quite a bit more fanfare.

“This is a historic moment,” said Ward 6 Councillor Wade Murray, council’s representative to the committee that oversees the civic workers’ pension, as he brought forward a new series of agreements on civic pension benefits that will dispel a dark cloud that has hung over the city for many years.

Currently, the civic pension plan sits at over $200 million in deficit thanks to many years of underperformance. And resolving problems with the plan has been hampered by an unruly governance system whereby both city council and the employee group held vetoes over any proposed plan changes but no dispute resolution mechanism was in place.

The new benefit plan — which is split up between the Sponsorship Agreement, the Trust Agreement and the Employer Participation Agreement — includes a new, streamlined governance system that eliminates the double veto. It also spreads repayment of the $200 million pension deficit over 20 years and puts 60 per cent of the responsibility for repayment onto the employers while 40 per cent remains with employees.

Going forward, employers will be contributing 10.9% of employee salary towards the pension plan while employees will kick in 9.8%.

Council voted enthusiastically and unanimously in favour of the new plan.

“A huge sigh of relief,” said Mayor Michael Fougere after the council meeting. “So many people worked so hard to get us to this date. Members of council were talking about work being done to protect the pension for those who’ve retired. And for those who are working, they have a new pension plan that’s sustainable. The [provincial] Superintendent of Pension has approved this, cabinet has approved the regulatory changes, and all we need to do now ― we’ve passed the bylaw, so January first, the new pension comes into effect. And we’re very pleased. This has been over a decade of continual discussion.”

The new plan will represent an increased cost to the city. The exact total will be incorporated into the 2016 budget which city administration are working on right now.

Housing Stuff And Such: Incentives Adjusted

City council approved a recommendation by administration to refocus the city’s Housing Incentive Policy so that it will better target below-market rental units.

Previously, while non-profit housing developers were to be given funding priority, housing incentives were handed out on a first-come, first-served basis. That meant that non-profit developers who applied late in a year could be turned away if all of the city’s funds had already been allocated.

Under the revisions passed at council’s Oct. 26 meeting, non-profit housing developers who apply for incentive funding would be reviewed and funded as their applications came in. Applications from private sector developers, though, would only be considered after Oct. 31 in a year.

The retargeting of the Housing Incentives Policy was deemed necessary as the recovery in Regina’s rental market has not been even across sectors. While the overall vacancy rate has risen from functionally zero per cent in 2012 to 4.8% this spring, non-profit housing providers report that they have extremely long waiting lists for affordable housing.

By adjusting the Housing Incentives Policy, the city hopes to improve the housing market for the most vulnerable.

1. These aren’t just lamely corporate-sounding, they’re borderline fascist. They sound like something corrupt Detroit industrialists would’ve thought up in Robocop. Ugh.

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