Six At Night: City Budget Edition

6 in the EveningThe city’s budgets passed tonight. Here are six things you should know.

1. THEY SHAVED HALF A PERCENT OFF THE MILL RATE INCREASE… HAPPY NOW? Councillor Browne kicked off discussion of the General Operating Budget with a motion to drop the mill rate increase to 4.0 per cent (down from 4.5 per cent proposed in the draft budget). No programs or services were cut to fund this. Instead, a little over $600,000 will be taken out of the Land Development Reserve.

2. STILL NOT HAPPY AT 4.0 PER CENT? BLAME THE PROVINCE: A fair bit of ire was directed the Sask Party government’s way. Councillor Hincks summed up the issue like this: “The provincial government should take all the heat for this [mill rate increase] because they set up a funding formula and didn’t stick to it.” The funding formula the province didn’t stick to is the portion of the PST the city is supposed to receive. To balance it’s own budget, the province reneged on a promise to boost the portion that municipalities are to receive. That left Regina city council $8 million poorer than they’d anticipated.

3. PEOPLE DON’T LIKE PROPERTY TAXES, PART 1: The Chamber of Commerce, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business and the Association of Regina Realtors came out to express their opposition for any property tax increase. They found that their calls for greater efficiency from the city had little traction with council tonight. Councillors repeatedly pointed to the Core Services Review as evidence that the city is turning over every rock to find efficiencies.

4. PEOPLE DON’T LIKE PROPERTY TAXES, PART 2: Councillor Szarka “served notice” to administration (what an oddly aggressive turn of phrase) that this year he’d be initiating a debate on a base tax system that could replace the city’s current property tax system because residents of his ward are tired of paying so much more in taxes and receiving so little in services when compared to residents in the inner city. Councillor Hincks backed up Szarka’s call for a review of the property tax structure. Later, Councillor O’Donnell announced that he’d be spending the next several months working to come up with alternate funding sources for the city, his goal being to find a way to make future property tax increases unnecessary.

5. CITY UNION WANTS MORE WORK AND MORE WORKERS: CUPE Local 21 came out to speak about low morale among some city workers. They argued that the city’s increasing reliance on outside contractors to complete city work is inefficient. They brought up several examples of work that could have been done in-house for less money than the city paid out to private companies. They also noted how their front-line workforce has been slowly shrinking over the years, making it difficult for them to take on additional projects despite the cost savings they could offer the city. After their presentation, no one on council asked for any elaboration.

6. OTHER THINGS PASSED TONIGHT TOO: The Regina Public Library got its requested 2.9 per cent mill rate increase and the Warehouse Business Improvement District got their 0.8809. Council also gave the green light to the City Square project despite the much-higher-than-anticipated bids to do the work. Also, in response to provincial funding cuts to pest control (which apparently were made without consultation with the city) council passed a significantly reduced mosquito control program to accommodate their loss in funding. Councillor Clipsham brought forward a motion to send the province an invoice for the pest control work that the city’s done.

Okay, that’s a quick overview of tonight’s budget proceedings. Expect more in the upcoming prairie dog.

Regina’s Big Campaign Contributors

I thought it’d be interesting to find out who were the big contributors to the various campaigns for mayor and council last year. So here’s a list of companies, organizations and people who contributed $500 or more to candidates in the 2010 municipal election. All this info is public and available on the city’s website (click the link then download report IR10-3).

First, here are the big spenders — ie, those who spent $700 or more (and who they spent it on):

Bison Properties Ltd – $3,000 (Fiacco, Hutchinson, Bryce, Grey, Flegel)
Regina District Labour Council – $3,000 (Conway, McIntyre, Mercer)
North Prairie Developments – $1,500 (Fiacco, Flegel)
Capital Ford – $1,000 (Flegel)
Mitchell Developments Ltd – $1,000 (Fiacco)
Hardeep Madhur – $1,000 (Fiacco)
Heath Water Heater – $1,000 (Findura)
Regina Motors Products – $1,000 (Fiacco)
Jim Elliott – $786 (Elliott)
K-Line Maintenance – $750 (Berehula)
Malcolm French/Equitum Consulting – $715 (Dixon)
Dundee Realty Corporation – $700 (Fiacco, Flegel)

(UPDATE: I realized on re-reading that it might be unclear that what I’m posting here are totals. So, for example, Bison donated $3,000 in reported contributions overall, split between five candidates. It didn’t contribute $3,000 to each. Same goes below.)

The rest of these contributors spent $500 exactly (and I didn’t type out who to because I got lazy — but like I say, this information is all readily available on the city’s website):

Avison Young Commercial Real Estate Inc
Bennett Dunlop Ford
Canadian Ironworkers Political Action
Dale Greisser
Dale Griesser Realty
Darryl Price
Forks Motor Inn
GS Security
Italian Star Holdings Inc
Loraas Disposal Services
Makris Brothers Enterprises Ltd
Pearl Dainow
Site Management Services Regina Inc
Speers Funeral Chapel Inc
Taylor Lexus Toyota
Tom Robinson
Universal Collision
Virtus Group LLP
Welldone Mechanical Services

Couple interesting things…. The Regina District Labour Council was tied for biggest donor with Bison Properties Ltd but none of the RDLC’s candidates won their spots while Bison backed three winners out of five. Is there a prize for that?

Also, as I mentioned in yesterday’s This Week at City Hall, Fiacco spent $43,000 on his re-election campaign, a figure which dwarfs his closest competition, Jim Elliott, who seems to have spent under $1,000. Sounds a little like showing up to a knife fight with napalm. (Or, conversely, it’s like Elliott went to a napalm fight with a spork. However you want to look at it.)

And if you’re curious, the bulk of Fiacco’s money was spent on advertising ($16,464.38), postage ($9,918.58), signs ($9,186.83) and salaries and benefits ($5,200).

This Week At City Hall: Budgets Budgets Budgets, Rec Facility Plan, Fire Pits, More!

This is going to be one helluva busy Monday at city hall. And Tuesday will be busier still. There are back-to-back council meetings and the agendas are looooo-o-o-ong. Here are some highlights….

Monday, April 26
CITY COUNCIL (5:30 pm): The Recreation Facility Plan will be looked at and delegations from the Neil Balkwill Centre and the Regina Art Gallery will speak in support of a planned expansion of their facility. Also considering a recommendation to establish Queen Elisabeth II Court, Gordon Park and Al Pickard Park as pesticide free parks, and at setting aside funds for the enforcement of bylaws controlling open air fires.

Council will also have to deal with the (much) higher than expected tender results for the City Square Project (aka the Wow Project). Joe Couture at the Leader Post runs through what happened here very well. In short: surprise, surprise, the companies bidding on the City Square Project came in waaaaa-a-a-ay above what city admin were projecting. Possible reasons include the fact that the construction market is kind of crazy in booming Regina and the costs of building anything these days is skyrocketing.

Domed stadium proponents, take note of that.

A decision on what to do about the City Square Project will be tabled until council’s next meeting. Which, as it happens, is the following night so you won’t have to wait long to find out.

Lots more, like how much Pat Fiacco spent on his re-election campaign and who’s coming out to crank about the property tax hike, after the jump.

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This Week At City Hall: Road Work, Lead Testing, Recreation Facilities Plan

The latest issue went to press yesterday — it’s our Best of Food Spectacular! Look for it on newstands Friday — and while I didn’t have a huge amount to write in terms of total word count, there were lots of little fiddly bits that took up a goodly portion of my meager brain power and, well, the end result is I forgot to do this week’s city hall preview until today… when most of the stuff on city hall’s agenda has already passed me by. Sorry about that.

Get the skinny on what’s happened and what’s about to happen downtown after the jump.

Continue reading “This Week At City Hall: Road Work, Lead Testing, Recreation Facilities Plan”

This Week At City Hall: Canadian Forces Appreciation Day 2010, Solar Orientation

Monday, April 12
CITY COUNCIL (5:30 pm): Council will be confirming the appointment of Councilor Sharon Bryce to the Regina Public Library Board. It will also be considering $20,000 in Special Events Funding for RCMP’s 125th Anniversary in July, and looking at proposals for a daycare at 1621 11th Ave and an apartment building to be built in Harbour Landing. Also, Councillors Hincks and Browne will be making a motion that the city should hold another Canadian Forces Appreciation Day.

Wednesday, April 14
REGINA PLANNING COMMISSION (4:00 pm): Developers are seeking the go ahead for expansions to two suburbs: the seventh phase of Maple Ridge and the Fairways West subdivision. There doesn’t seem to be anything especially noxious about either of these developments except that, you know, they’re just adding flesh to the city’s sprawl. But no one seems to be kicking up much of a stink about them so I’m sure they’ll pass no questions asked.

Of slightly more interest, staff will be bringing forward their recommendations on what’s been dubbed, “Leadership on Climate Change: Solar Orientation.” Back in December, council directed staff to look into the costs and benefits to developers, the City, home owners and the community at large of changing the guidelines in the Official Community Plan that deal with solar orientation into requirements. Presently, the OCP recommends that 75 per cent of new houses be built oriented within 15 degrees of the north-south axis. Presently, developers are pretty much flaunting that recommendation. Of the new concept plans that they have brought forward since 2008, there is only about 49 per cent compliance with the guideline.

Staff’s recommendation, however, is to not touch solar orientation in the OCP at this time. While proper solar orientation will result in significant cost savings for homeowners and while it will lead to a significant reduction in the city’s greenhouse gas output, staff argue changing the policy to force that 75 per cent figure could be too costly thanks to the changes it would necessitate in the way utilities and services are provided to new neighbourhoods. Plus, they note, there are other practices the city could implement that could have far greater energy-conservation benefits (such as encouraging walkable neighbourhoods, improving the public transit experience, those sorts of things).

Ultimately, staff suggest any change to the OCP’s solar orientation policy should be conducted as part of an overall review of the OCP. Fortunately, such a review is to begin later this year. Unfortunately, it could be many many months before it is completed and during that time we’ll continue to see under-compliance with the solar orientation guideline.

Last Week At City Hall: Waste Plan, Condos And $2.9M Surplus

Look at me, lazy-ass Dechene, still playing catch-up on what’s happening downtown. I didn’t manage to put this together last week, so here’s a rundown of what happened at the March 22 city council meeting.

There weren’t a whole lot of surprises at the meeting, actually. The condo complex slated for Rose Street (the Gardens on Rose), for instance, was approved. It did lead to a little bit of discussion from council about how happy they are to see some of the surface parking downtown being used for development. Consensus seems to be that the Downtown Neighbourhood Plan is doing its job even though it isn’t a bylaw yet.

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This Week At City Hall: Crime Stats And New Rental Suites

Hooboy, I’ve been falling down on the city hall blogging job. So here’s a preview of the goings on downtown just in the nick of time….

Wednesday, March 31
BOARD OF POLICE COMMISSIONERS (9:00 am): Looking at the year over year crime stats for February. Crimes against the person have dropped 0.4 per cent from Feb of 2009 while crimes against property show a 19 per cent increase. Looks like the property crime increase is the result of more theft of stuff worth under $5,000 (that went up 42 per cent). Car theft meanwhile dropped a hefty 17 per cent.

The Board will also look at year-end crime stats that include a 10-year review of crime trends. Good news is that crime is still dropping in Regina. Overall reported crimes have dropped 26.3 per cent since 2000 and 4.8 per cent since 2008. In 2009, there were only four homicides and five attempted murders which are the lowest numbers for both crimes over the past decade. Car theft, break and enter, drinking and driving, and general crimes against property are all down. Robbery stats, however, are not good — we had 33.2 per cent more of those in 2009 than in 2000 and 3.7 per cent more than in 2008. Drug offenses have also gone up steeply as there was a 105.2 per cent increase since 2000.

Continue reading “This Week At City Hall: Crime Stats And New Rental Suites”

This Week At City Hall: Rose St Condo, Waste Plan and Budget

Monday, March 22
CITY COUNCIL (5:30 pm): Looking at the Gardens On Rose condo development slated for 2055 Rose Street (more about that here). Following this, council will have a look at the Waste Plan Regina recommendations — specifically, that we should get Waste Plan Option #2 – Enhanced, and that provisions in Option #3 – Comprehensive should be set as aspirational goals. Jim Elliott and a rep from the Environment Advisory Committee will be making presentations.

After this, the city’s budget documents will be brought forward so they can be considered in advance of the special April 27 budget meeting. This year’s budget includes a 4.5 per cent mill rate increase and you can read some details about it here.

The Regina Public Library budget will also be brought forward and that is asking for a 2.9 per cent mill rate increase.

Thursday, March 25
CEMETERIES DEPARTMENTAL CONSULTATIVE GROUP (4:30 pm): Considering their 2010 work plan.

As usual, reports and agendas can be downloaded from the city’s website.

City Budget Launched

Funny thing happened to me this morning while attending the launch of the proposed 2010 Regina Budget. Once the mayor had finished taking questions and left the room, there were press scrums with reps from the business community so we could hear their reactions to the budget. It was while John Hopkins, CEO of the Regina Chamber of Commerce, was speaking to us press-types that someone leaned over my shoulder — I won’t say who — and in a voice thick with irony whispered, “Remember Paul, this is the de facto mayor of Regina.”

Ow, snap!

For those who don’t get the joke, that would be a shot at the dog over the Conway column we ran in the last issue. And fair enough. We earned that ribbing. Still, I do wish I’d been able to come up with a witty riposte but my brain’s pretty sluggish at the best of times.

Anyway, Hopkins sure wasn’t talking like some kind of shadow mayor today. Neither was Marilyn Braun-Pollon of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business. They were there to hector city hall from the sidelines over the decision to boost the mill rate.

That’s right, kids, the proposed budget is recommending a 4.5 per cent mill rate increase. For the average household that will mean an additional $4.97 per month — or $59.61 per year — in property taxes. But as the mayor pointed out, this is just a proposed budget. Council will be taking input from the public between now and April 27 when the final version comes forward.

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Waste Plan Update

Heard from Councillor Fred Clipsham tonight (at the Cathedral Area Community Association annual general meeting) that the Public Works Committee approved the recommendations in the Waste Plan Regina final report. (Read more about what the committee was considering in this post.) That means curbside recycling is one step closer and only needs approval from council at their Monday meeting for the ball to start rolling on that.

Interestingly, the Public Works Committee voted to add to the staff recommendations that the Waste Plan’s Comprehensive Option be made an aspirational goal for our waste management system with an eye to achieve it by 2020. So, that means we’ll be getting the Enhanced Option (characterized primarily by curbside recycling) in the near term but we could see an even more impressive waste management system — one that includes bi-weekly collection of compostable kitchen waste, for instance — established 10 years from now.

UPDATE: Martin G over at Regina Urban Ecology has a very detailed breakdown of how the Public Works Committee came to the decision it did. Plus, he reports on comments made at the meeting by John Hopkins of the Chamber of Commerce. Apparently, the CoC wants a user-pay model for waste collection and not higher taxes. Wow. Who saw that coming?

Anyway, it’s a very educational read.

This Week At City Hall: Recycling Recommendations

Monday, March 15
MUNICIPAL HERITAGE ADVISORY COMMITTEE (12:15 pm): Receiving a communication from Heritage Saskatchewan about four working groups it has set up to address heritage issues in the province.

Tuesday, March 16
PUBLIC WORKS COMMITTEE (4 pm): First up, administration will respond to a request to see if traffic calming is needed on Woodhams Drive — a road that feeds into the new Greens on Gardner suburb. Turns out, no, it won’t.

After that, the committee will look at a Waste Plan Regina report in which city staff make their much-anticipated recommendations about how to improve Regina’s waste management system.

Will Regina finally join the rest of the country by implementing a citywide curbside recycling program? Or will the cheapskates and tax-averse planet haters reign with their “Don’t raise the mill rate!” stylings? Well, you’re just going to have to click to read more if you want to find out….
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City Council Wrap Up: Sewer Bugs and Infrastructure Woes

Infrastructure was the big topic of discussion at last night’s council meeting. Not only was the Water and Sewer Utility budget considered and passed, but Mayor Fiacco gave a summary of discussions that took place at the recent Big City Mayors Caucus meeting in Moncton which were focused on Canada’s growing infrastructure deficit.

According to Fiacco, Canadian cities are labouring under a $123 billion infrastructure deficit. The potholes everyone was complaining about during the election are just one symptom of the problem. Sewers, water pipes, streetlights, sidewalks and roads: it’s all in bad repair. And as Fiacco pointed out, that $123 billion only represents how much municipalities are falling behind. The federal and provincial governments also have their own infrastructure deficits to deal with.

To begin the process of working out a solution to the impending doom by imploding sewer pipes that most cities are facing, Fiacco is spearheading an Infrastructure Summit to be held in Regina from January 26 to 28 in 2011. His idea was unanimously approved by the Big City Mayors and several municipalities have offered to help out. And at last night’s meeting, Regina’s council confirmed the dates.

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This Week At City Hall

Proposed Rose St Condo Tower“What no pic of city hall?” Not this week. Thought I’d change it up and if you’re wondering what’s with that rendering of a condo tower you’ll have to hang on until the RPC blurb.

Monday, March 8
CITY COUNCIL (5:30 pm): A representative from In-Pipe Technology will be making a presentation to council this week in an attempt to encourage the city to get on board with their sewage treatment system. In-Pipe is promising to reduce our carbon footprint and lower the costs of sewage processing. Yay. I think. I’d like to tell you what In-Pipe’s technology is that they’re so proud of but based on their submission, I’m none the wiser about it. This could get the award for the worst written, most vague submission to council that I’ve ever read. Looks like In-Pipe has a history with council so maybe if you’ve been following things for years you’d know what’s going on. Still, until I hear more, I’m staying skeptical of this technology.

Also up for consideration this week, the Water and Sewer Utility Budget will be presented for review and council will finally be deciding if it will keeping $42.4 million it borrowed for the Global Transportation Hub (and didn’t need) and reallocating those funds for capital projects.

Council will also receive a report from the mayor about the goings on at the Big City Mayor’s Caucus.

Wednesday, March 10
REGINA PLANNING COMMISSION (4:00 pm): The committee will be looking at a request to build the high-rise apartment building that’s in that picture at the top of the post. It’s slated to go up at 2055 Rose Street and if built it’ll replace a swath of surface parking. (Good riddance, I say.) The building looks pretty nifty — not really my cup of tea architecture-wise but I’ve seen worse — and according to the report it’s been built to conform (for the most part) to the Downtown Neighbourhood Plan even though that has yet to be incorporated into the Official Community Plan.

Looks like it’ll be condo units which isn’t a bad thing. But rental and especially affordable rental is what the city is really desperate for right now. Regardless, I’m glad to see some more residential slated for downtown — makes the place more lively — and I’ll be glad to see some surface parking disappear.

Natch, one of the concerns expressed to the Planning Department was over what this new tower would do to on-street parking in the neighbourhood because, of course, we must have copious amounts of parking or the world stops turning, but the building will have more than two stalls per unit built right into (ie, not splayed out over city blocks) the development, so that shouldn’t be a problem.

Anyway, looks like the Downtown Neighbourhood Plan is doing its job by encouraging developers to build better buildings. So, at present, I’m hopeful this is a good sign of things to come. What do you think? Am I crackers? Naive? Tell me, tell me.

As usual, you can download agendas and schedules on the city’s website.

Infinite Horizons: Some Thoughts From Away

It’s been a few weeks since the city launched its new brand, Infinite Horizons, and I’m sure it’s drifted from everyone’s mind by now. But, back when we were working up our coverage of it, I had some correspondence with the only Regina graphic designers I know (actual prairie dog employees excluded), Lee Henderson and Seema Goel. Neither of them live in Regina at present but they’re both from here and are now reduced to just looking in, enviously, at all our city’s awesome potential.

Now, personally, I mostly fall on the “in favour” side of the new brand debate. Lee and Seema? Not so much. So I thought it might be fun to post some thoughts on the new brand from some Regina expats.

And as this will be a rather long post, I also thought this would be a perfect opportunity to try out the Read More tag this fancy new blog sports. So, read some Lee and Seema after the jump….

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This Week at City Hall

Regina City Hall Feb 22, 2010Tuesday, March 2
FINANCE AND ADMINISTRATION COMMITTEE (12:15 pm): Looking at 2010’s Property Tax Exemptions. The total amount the city is foregoing through these exemptions is $2,257,000. The committee will also be considering a recommendation to sell some city-owned land to the Regina Qu’appelle Health Region without going through a public process. Reason for this is the hospital had to give up some staff parking for the new Dewdney Avenue Fire Hall. This land sale will replace the parking they lost.

Wednesday, March 3
EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE (11:45 am): There is nothing on the public agenda for this committee.

Thursday, March 4
ENVIRONMENT ADVISORY COMMITTEE (5 pm): Considering the possibility of holding a “Natural Step” workshop, which seems to be some kind of educational opportunity for organizations hoping to build their sustainable practices. Also looking at request from the Canadian Cancer Society to address the committee about pesticides and a recommendation to move forward on “compare and contrast exercise” covering bylaws relating to water. The committee will also be discussing the Waste Plan and preparing their response to it for when it goes before Public Works Committee on March 16.

As always, you can download reports and agendas on the city website.