Hey Regina. What do you want for Christmas? How about a spiff city budget for 2012 even before 2012 starts? Because that’s what you’re going to get tonight when city council votes on the operating budget, the capital program, the water and sewer utility budget, the police budget and the library budget. The fun starts at 5:30pm.

For those who haven’t been following the budget, the proposed mill rate increase from the city is 3.9 per cent while the library is asking for a 1.9 per cent bump. Utility rates will be going up by another 9 per cent but that was set last year, so no surprise there.

Last year, I suggested a budget debate drinking game for anyone watching the deliberations on Access TV. (Open liquor isn’t allowed in the gallery. Who knew?) I don’t think I’ll be joining in this time around. But if you want to play by the 2011 rules, be my guest.

Also about this time last year, I put together an infographic detailing the city’s growing “Procrastination Gap.” I’ve updated that image for 2012 and you can check it out above (click to embiggen).

Basically, that graph shows two things about the city’s capital budget. First, there’s the dark brown line that runs through the middle. It shows what the city has actually budgeted from 2007 to now on capital expenditures — things like roads, equipment, vehicles, etc. But each year, the city makes predictions about what it is going to have to spend four years into the future so that it can keep doing what it’s doing. Those predicted spending levels are the colourful lines on the graph.

So for the new 2012 capital program, the actual budgeted capital spending starts at $65,155,000. But the expected spending through to 2016 shoots up from there, as represented by that red line.

As you can see, in 2007 and 2008, the city did a pretty good job of predicting where it’s spending would be four years down the road. Starting in 2009, however, things go wild. Requested levels of funding are dramatically higher than what is actually budgeted. Makes me kind of wonder how useful those predictions are, really.

It also makes me think that city staff are well aware that dramatic increases in spending need to be made on the capital side so that we can start closing our infrastructure gap. But as you can see from the brown line, there isn’t much progress being made on that score as council continues to make modest increases.

Also note that capital spending this year has dropped to the lowest level since 2007. This despite the fact that based on the 2008 budget, spending should be up to $72,042,000 by now (a $6.9 million difference). And that’s the minimum. The 2011 budget pegged capital spending at $126,783,000 (a $61.6 million difference).

I spoke with Councillor Fougere not too long ago and he pointed out that this year’s difference between desired spending and actual budgeted spending has to do with the loss of a considerable amount of funding from the federal government.

Anyway, it sure seems that the city needs more revenue and small mill rate increases just aren’t cutting it.

There will be more on the 2012 budget in the upcoming prairie dog (comes out Thursday). And I’ll probably update something here tonight.

And, there’s more going on at city hall this week but I don’t have time right now to run through everything so I’ll try to get a TWACH Part 2 up tomorrow some time. But if the suspense is killing you and you absolutely have to find out what’s on this week, you can always go to the city’s website.