Well, that very nearly drained my laptop battery.

The special council meeting to discuss the 2011 city budget and the (apparently very contentious) Waste Plan Implementation Plan lasted until 10:20 and while it wasn’t the knock ’em down drag ’em out fight I was hoping for, there were a couple surprises in there to keep the night interesting.

Mildly interesting.

The Big News Item to come out of the meeting won’t come as a surprise to readers of this blog. Council whittled the proposed mill rate increase of 4.13 per cent down to 4 per cent. Which, as you probably recall, is exactly what I predicted back on the 13th.

Yeah, I’m pretty chuffed.

(Though, if I am to be honest, the only magic behind my prognostication was the power of rounding.)

You can thank a surplus from last year’s capital account for the property tax picture being 0.13 per cent rosier than expected. In fact, council was able to drop the mill rate and increase spending on the back of the extra $2.6 million with which city staff ended 2010.

Some of the things that surplus money will buy include:

• $750,000 for improving the Arcola and Woodland Grove intersection
• $440,000 for the North Central Shared Facility
• $195,000 for recapping the multi-use pathway system
• $190,000 for a new ice rink near Dalgleish Dr and Devonshire
• $150,000 for outdoor play amenities
• $100,000 for downtown bus stop improvements
• $100,000 in funding for the Regina Regional Opportunities Commission
• $100,000 towards replacing incandescent bulbs in streetlights with LED lights
• $82,000 for pedestrian protection
• $75,000 for the comprehensive parking study
• $75,000 for the noise attenuation program
• $75,000 for a Quance Street traffic study
• $50,000 in additional festival funding

There were a few more but those were the really noteworthy ones. I can’t say I’m wholly opposed to anything on this list. In fact, there are few there that I was pleased and surprised at — the NCSF funding, the downtown bus stop improvements and the multi-use pathway work, for instance.

On the Waste Plan Implementation Plan front, that passed but with some modification as well.

Council apparently struck a work group and put together a list of 10 amendments to the plan (that number swelled to 11 before discussion was through). Staff are being directed to look at the items identified and report back in early March on them. The items in question are….

• develop a cost/benefit analysis and rationale for going with comingled recyclable collection as opposed to getting people to sort their recycling
• report on the possible role of the private sector in the plan
• report on the possibility of community partnerships
• report on how to include recycling incentives in the plan such as providing different sized garbage bins at different costs
• look at best practices in other cities
• find out what role the big blue bins will play in the system
• investigate getting the recycling program running by 2012 (instead of 2013) and the multi-family recycling running by 2013
• work out a communication plan for the program
• provide a business case for the actual cost of the recycling service which includes revenue projections from the province’s Multi Materials Recycling Program
• provide a rationale for charging for pickup
• investigate introducing a direct debit system out at the landfill

So, it’s great that city staff will be looking into all this. But, I have to ask… shouldn’t all of these things been looked at during the Waste Plan Regina process??????

I mean, how much did we spend on those garbage consultants anyway? And what were staff doing for the last year as they were analyzing the consultant report and preparing their recommendations to council?

I look at the care and attention to detail that’s apparent in things like the Recreation Facilities Plan and the Downtown Neighbourhood Plan (love them or hate them, you have to admit they’re comprehensive documents) and the Waste Plan by comparison just seems full of holes.

For instance, it came out during council that of the private recycling firms in town — Crown and Shred Recycling and Go Green Recycling — neither were involved in consultations with the city about residential recycling. Hey, I love public sector provision of services as much as the next pinko. But come on… that they didn’t even sit down with those two companies and see what they had to offer… that’s not just an oversight, it’s rude.

Sigh. Anyway, the Waste Plan is more or less passed.

And so is the budget.

But what you’re really wondering is what about the Drinking Game and Guess The Scapegoat.

Well, if you were playing the Budget 2011 Drinking Game at home, it would seem I have some catching up to do. (They frown on bringing open liquor into the council chambers, apparently.) Here’s my tally of drinks (keeping in mind there were points where my attention drifted… it was a five hour meeting, after all….)

Mentions of the city vision: 1 (Amazing! Clearly, council is getting tired of hearing themselves recite it as well.)

Directing comments through His Worship, the Mayor: 11 (this shoots up to 17 if you count double for when Councillor Browne said it)

Questions to staff: 11 (I really expected a lot more of these, but I got the sense council had been grilling staff in the days leading up to the meeting so they didn’t have to ask a lot of them tonight)

Mentions of the infrastructure deficit: 13 (Actually, this number was probably many times higher seeing as many very lengthy speeches were devoted to this topic but I only counted the speech itself as one drink even though the number of direct and indirect references to the deficit in each speech was nigh on uncountable.)

So, playing at Boss Level, you’d have to take at least 36 drinks (42 with the Louis Browne option in play). Enough to get you quite stiff but I have to say I was expecting the total to be much higher.

As for the Guess The Scapegoat game, I’m tempted to pull a fast one here….

I think most people would say council’s mill rate hike scapegoat was the funding formula. There was certainly a lot of talk about how antiquated the property tax system is and of how we have to come up with a better way to fund municipalities. Council totally shied away from laying blame directly at the feet of any level of government, keeping their critique clearly focused on the formula itself.

So, based on that reasoning, I think I owe that drink to commenter #6, Emmet. (Phew. Dude lives in Vancouver.)

But you know what? Honestly, I don’t think that was the real scapegoat for the mill rate increase in the 2011 budget.

No, that honour goes to: You.

Seriously. I’m not just trying to be cute.

Over and over again, councillors talked about how the reason they have to raise property taxes is because of all the things Regina citizens are demanding of their city: better roads, better facilities, better transit, the list goes on and on. They would say things like, a zero increase might be popular, but people wouldn’t like the city they’d get with that.

And you know what? They’re right.

So, the funding formula may have been the boogeyman of the evening. But you and me and our vision of a city that’s a vibrant, inclusive, attractive, sustainable community, where people live in harmony and thrive in opportunity… we’re truly the ones to blame for tonight’s mill rate increase.

Still, I’ll happily buy Emmet that drink.

Speaking of….. while I didn’t get to participate in the drinking game, I did fix myself a very fine cocktail when I got home. And when this post grew, I fixed another. To close, here they are….

The Monkey Gland
2 oz gin
1 oz fresh orange juice
2 dashes pernod (technically you’re supposed to use absinthe but I have none)
2 dashes grenadine
Shake well with ice. Strain into a pre-chilled cocktail glass.

St. Vincent Cocktail
1 oz dark rum
3/4 oz gin
3/4 oz Galliano
1 dash grenadine
Shake well with ice. Strain into a pre-chilled cocktail glass.