Saturday, 4 January 2014

Regina 2014 Budget - Is It Really That Bad?

Good afternoon Regina!!

Mayor Michael Fougere has gone to the media in the past couple weeks making some pretty bold statements about the anticipated 2014 City of Regina budget. He refuses to get into specifics, but promises "at least" a similar tax increase to last year (4.45%). Interesting to note is how he has brought in Saskatoon's approved 7.43% hike in their 2014 Budget. for comparison sakes. Also, as we exclusively broke here, the chair of the Finance & Administration Commitee, Wade Murray, leaked that the increase could be between at least 3-4%. No matter how you look at it, it seems that City Hall is expecting more money in their pockets.

Add to the fact that they are hinting at yet another increase in your water rates, similar to the previous years of 9%, and the individual taxpayers are getting royally screwed once again. I say individual taxpayers, because if you are a business that is "friendly" to the City, it seems that you don't have to worry about property taxes. Either you'll get a complete exemption, or you'll get - at least - a few year break. But, well, if you're a non-profit or doing something worthwhile in the community, don't expect such a favour. (Unless, of course, you bow to the "corrupt elite")

Just a few of the questions that immediately come to mind are: 
- What, exactly, is the reason for such a delay in the budget process? Considering Saskatoon has not only already reviewed theirs, but also approved it.

- What, exactly, is the reason for the anticipated property tax (and water rate) hike? Is the City of Regina truly doing everything in it's power to maximize the efficiency of how our City is managed, in order to reduce the burden on taxpayers?

- How does the Provincial Government's "reduction" in it's Municipal Operating Grant truly affect the annual budget? Why is this such a "surprise" to the City when it ought to have known about this possibility when the funding formula was changed early in 2013?

- Considering we have had record growth in construction over the past few years, would it not stand to reason that the City should expect a significant Property Tax Revenue increase? This past year alone, only counting the single family housing units, at an average Property Tax of $2,500 (Municipal portion), one would reasonably expect the City to have an extra $2.75 Million - just from the increased units in 2013. Multiply that by the number of new properties developed over the past number of years, as well as the multi-family units and commercial buildings, and you quickly realize that the City ought to have a significantly higher tax base than it did just five years ago. Without a detailed calculation and reviewing all of the stats in detail, a reasonable estimate would be an extra $30 Million per year, just based on the construction activity over the past few years.

Perhaps the Property Tax system isn't as "antiquated" as the Mayor suggests, in that the revenue doesn't increase with the economy, per se, but it certainly increases with every additional property, particularly in boom periods. I should mention that I anticipate the Mayor and/or Council/Admin to try to justify this by somehow stating that these extra revenues offset the development and maintenance costs of new subdivisions. Which is complete bullshit. Developers pay Service Connection Fees to the City for this very purpose, and you - the taxpayer - pay these in the purchase price of your new home. Extra services? What services? I highly doubt it costs an extra couple million to send buses, graders and garbage trucks to the new areas. I openly issue this challenge to the Mayor or any City Councillor to provide documented evidence to support their argument on this.

So, after considering the above, one has to ask themselves, just how dire is the City of Regina's financial situation? I mean, it can't be all that bad if we are considering spending half a billion dollars on just two projects alone over the next couple of years. (Which, by the way, is expected to increase our debt by 500%)

Why are we, the individual taxpayers, having to pay more for effectively the same level of services as last year?

Why are we, the individual taxpayers, having to subsidize giant corporations' tax breaks?

Why were we tricked into believing that the WWTP P3 arrangement would not cost us anymore in taxes, when in fact, they are going up - as well as water rates? Oh, and why won't the City ever acknowledge the $80 to $240M in expected revenues from this deal where they promised to sell off our wastewater? And why won't they answer the most basic of questions as to what happened since 2008? (Hint: Could it have anything to do with Monetization?)

Why can't our City Administrators simply realign their priorities, and reconsider the multi-million dollar projects currently on the table? These projects should - at minimum - have an independent authority reviewing the proposals, in order to ensure that they are indeed in the individual taxpayers' best interests, and we are, indeed, getting the best bang for our buck. Not to mention the question of whether or not the City of Regina has learned their lesson from the clusterfuck that was the Plaza.

Stay tuned Regina - there will be many excuses offered to you from the City of Regina and the Mayor over the next few weeks as to why they feel the need to gouge you and I, their employers, but there will only be one truth

In closing, I would like to share with you probably one of the most honest statements of any City Councillor - current or past - in terms of a possible solution to our problems facing City Hall. (I should note that he immediately removed this from Twitter after either realizing it's not the best idea to bash your former employer, or perhaps he meant to post this under a Parody Account.)

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