Taxes, Garbage and Pools

There can be no shelter from a city budget tweetstorm

City Hall | by Paul Dechene

On Dec. 10 and 11, city council debated the 2019 city budget. On the first night, delegations spoke and answered questions. On the second, council wrestled with how to bring down the proposed property tax increase while at the same time finding funds for things like rebuilding Maple Leaf Pool and giving condominium owners a rebate for waste removal services they couldn’t use.

I was there through it all, live tweeting [1] the action: 681 carefully crafted tweets over the course of 11 and a half hours.

Here is a curated selection of tweets from the Dec. 11 council debate. My comments are in square brackets. In some cases punctuation has been added, because Prairie Dog is a newspaper, not some wild west social media platform — and this newspaper uses periods, commas and semicolons, thankyouverymuch.

Preliminary Jousting

Starting night with proposed property tax (aka mill rate) increase = 4.7%

Meeting starts. Bryce is standing! SHE’S ASKING TO LOWER THE MILL RATE! SHE WANTS TO USE $1MIL IN SAVINGS ADMIN HAS IDENTIFIED IN THE 2019 BUDGET!

Bryce does this EVERY year. First person to talk. Always uses some saving or surplus to reduce mill rate increase.

Fougere interrupts, invites City Manager Chris Holden to make preliminary comments.

City Mgr: Nobody wants to see a mill rate increase you heard that loud and clear last night.

[Last night, Dec. 10, we heard all the delegations. And uh… there were only like three delegations asking for a smaller or zero increase. But there were 18 wanting money for Maple Leaf Pool rebuild. One delegation wanted an increase for community associations.]

City Mgr: Admin has looked at opportunities for savings. As such, we identified a reduction of up to $1.2mil in the 2019 budget, that’s .5% of mill rate. These reductions give council flexibility to reduce mill rate or to approve other spending .

Mancinelli on Bryce’s mill rate-lowering motion: I think it’s too early tonight to commit to this motion. Hawkins: I agree, it’s too early to bring this motion.

Stevens says we’re going to need that $1.2 mil later in the night.

Fougere speaking in favour of the motion: “Task before us tonight is balance. It’s about finding savings. 4.7% is what the admin brought to us. Our job is listening to the public and they say taxes are high.”

[Again, almost no one was grousing about high taxes last night. I guess tax haters can’t be bothered to get involved in their municipal politics.]

Bryce offers to table motion until later in meeting. Motion tabled.

Condos & Daycares

Flegel makes a motion to restore the condo waste removal rebate. [Condo owners do not get waste collected by city but pay same property taxes — which include waste pickup. Used to get part of waste collection $$ rebated.]

Bresciani: I rise in support. This is long overdue.

Vote on restoring the condo waste pickup rebate: Bresciani Y, Young Y, Findura Y, O’Donnell N, Flegel Y, Murray Y, Stevens Y, Bryce Y, Mancinelli Y, Hawkins Y, Fougere Y. Motion carried.

Councillor Young makes motion: Two-year tax exemption for licensed, non-profit daycare centres operating in the city. Exemption for 40 per cent of their property taxes.

Fougere is not happy w/ this b/c the city keeps having to subsume bits of provincial responsibility. He’ll support motion b/c of limited two year timeline. Supports lobbying feds & prov.

Vote on Councillor Young’s 2yr daycare tax exemption: Bresciani Y, Young Y, Findura Y, O’Donnell Y, Flegel Y, Murray Y, Stevens Y, Bryce Y, Mancinelli Y, Hawkins Y, Fougere Y. Motion carried.

Fight To Lower The Mill Rate

2018 operating surplus is $1 million. Findura makes motion to use $300k from the 2018 surplus to decrease the mill rate increase by 0.125%, to 4.575%.

Stevens: $300k is so small, it’s nothing but optics. It’s a rounding error. Later, we’ll be talking about pools and recreation infrastructure falling apart. This is not the time to make an empty gesture in the service of tax relief.

Bryce: I’ve heard from my residents that we’re making it unaffordable for them to live in their own homes. Anything we can do to bring this down will be appreciated.

Fougere: I rise in favour of the motion. I don’t think this is mere optics. It’s doing our due diligence to show we’re watching taxpayers’ money. There’s only one taxpayer here. I’m not going to say I know more than my residents.[2]

Motion to lower the mill rate increase by 0.125%: Bryce Y, Stevens N, Murray Y, Flegel Y, O’Donnell N, Young N, Bresciani Y, Hawkins Y, Mancinelli N, Fougere Y, Findura Y. Motion carried.

Just received and filed the Canadian Federation of Independent Business report on the 2019 budget. RECEIVED & FILED WITH A PAPER SHREDDER!

Bryce wants to use what’s left from 2019 budget savings to bring mill rate increase now down to 4.325%

Vote on Bryce’s mill rate lowering motion: Murray Y, Stevens N, Bryce Y, Mancinelli N, Hawkins Y, Flegel Y, O’Donnell N, Findura Y, Young Y, Bresciani Y, Fougere Y. Motion Carried.

Your property tax increase is now 4.325%

Operating budget passes unanimously. Moving on to capital budget.

Maple Leaf Pool

Hawkins putting forward the motion to save Maple Leaf Pool.

Hawkins: This is a motion about the poorest of children. We’ve dealt with condo owners and other taxpayers. This is about taking care of our young people and teenagers.

Hawkins: I’ve heard from residents of Ward 2 saying, “you build that pool, they deserve our support, they deserve our love.”

Hawkins: Financing is a challenge. We put 0.45% of a mill rate increase into a stadium every year. Surely we can put 0.45% of a dedicated mill rate increase over three years into a pool.

Hawkins: This isn’t a moment for delay or prevarication. this is a moment for courage, a moment to stand up for young people.

[That was a REALLY good speech from Hawkins.]

Hawkins motion: Maple Leaf Pool be replaced; planning & construction begin immediately w/ opening in 2020; pool financed w/ 0.45% mill rate increase in 2019, 2020, 2021.

[Fuck. I dig that motion. The 0.45% (same as what we’re paying for stadium) was a nice touch.]

Young: I like every part of that except item #3, the mill rate increase. Will this put mill rate increase back up?

CityMgr: We have 4.325% mill rate right now [due to earlier cuts]. If add 0.45 in 2019, it would go up to 4.775%. That adds $1,080,000 and would be there for each of the subsequent years.

Young: I can’t support putting the mill rate back up after we just worked to get it down.

Chief Financial Officer: There is currently $1.5 million in the capital plan going toward planning and design for the Wascana Destination Aquatic Facility (DAF). There’s $15 mil in capital plan to fund building of Wascana DAF. That $15 mil comes from debt.

Flegel: Could we put this on our debt instead of on the 0.45% and build Maple Leaf Pool?

CFO: Yes you could fund through debt.

[Point of clarification… I refer to the city’s main money wizard as the CFO. I can’t remember if Regina’s money wizard is called a “CFO” or a “Director Of Fiscal Wizardry” or whatever. But CFO is easy to type and uses few characters.]

CityMgr: We’re hearing from council that they want to invest in both Maple Leaf and Wascana. I think there’s an opportunity to use the $1.5 mil for planning in the budget to look at replace Maple Leaf Pool like-for-like. And we have heard there are some in city who don’t want DAF in Wascana.

Fougere: I think there’s close to a consensus that we want a pool in Heritage. We want pool rebuilt. Came up last night we neglected the pool. We didn’t. But like any asset, it wears out.

[STAND STRONG ON THAT 0.45%, HAWKINS! IT IS LADEN WITH POETIC JUSTICE! I WANT TO PAY THAT DEDICATED MILL RATE INCREASE!!]

Fougere: If we can find a way refer this to administration and they can come back quickly without impacting the mill rate. I’m not sure if Coun Hawkins would be prepared to be flexible with his motion.

[DON’T MOVE ON 0.45%! YOU ARE THE HAWK! SOAR WITH THAT MILL RATE INCREASE!]

Hawkins on funding Maple Leaf Pool rebuild: You would have thought I brought a motion to build pyramids. This is very simple.

Hawkins: I would be prepared that we refer #3 the mill rate increase back tonight so that admin can come up with a financing plan. I don’t care what it is. Almost any solution will do.

Admin says we have $1.5 mil to start process. If it’s like-for-like [i.e., rebuild the pools pretty much the same as they already are], we have enough funding in the budget right now to fund both.

[SOAR! YOU ARE THE HAWK!]

Hawkins: Will it be no later than the summer 2020 season for the opening of the pool? Can you meet that deadline?

CityMgr: 2020 we would start construction. 2019 we’d do design. You can’t move any quicker than that. [So: open in 2021. Hawkins isn’t happy.]

Fougere moves a referral motion on the Maple Leaf Pool rebuild funding. Asks administration to come back w/ funding plan in early 2019.

Hawkins modified motion to rebuild Maple Leaf Pool passes unanimously.

Hey Heritage! You got your pool back!


Footnotes

[1] I live tweet nearly every council meeting as @PDCityHall. Meetings are the last Monday of every month starting at 5:30pm.

[2] I don’t understand what Mayor Fougere means by “there’s only one taxpayer here”. I just tweet, I don’t write dialogue.