Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Hypocrisy at City Hall

Good morning Regina!!

What began as a major blow to taxpayers has developed into a complete and utter gong show at City Hall. With the recent letters being sent out to residents around Regina informing them that they must pay upwards of $10,000 simply to fix their streets and sidewalks, compounded on top of the 2014 Budget being passed with an increase of 5.88% to your Property Taxes, and another 8% on your Water Bill, it has become apparent that the City of Regina means business when it comes to finding ways to pay for the needed infrastructure upgrades that have been years - if not decades - in the making.

Citizens in the Whitmore Park area already successfully petitioned the City in 2010 to avoid this ridiculous payment arrangement, and are now being told that the costs are 76% higher than the 2010 figures because of estimates the City received from homebuilders "like Dundee Developments". I'm not sure why they are getting figures from Dundee, as they are most certainly NOT in the business of developing sidewalks. I've spoken with residents in the area, and they have spoken with private companies that do this work as part of their daily business, and they have confirmed that the price tag should be around $250/metre, to MAXIMUM $300/metre, whereas the City is telling residents the cost is $413.58/metre. Someone is obviously padding the numbers to make a nice little profit off of the backs of average taxpayers. To be perfectly clear, the residents of the area most certainly do want the work to be done; they just do not agree with the fact that they should be having to pay extra for this work, which I completely agree with, and any responsible Civic Government would have budgeted for. It should be noted that according to City documents, the last major reconstruction was in the 1960's. If I were mayor, there is no way that any of this work would be charged back to those taxpayers, as there should be an anticipated infrastructure renewal program in place at least every 35-40 years.

The Mayor is, of course, standing his ground, and being as arrogant as expected, by stating that this is simply "standard procedure" and now apparently is trying to lay blame on the Provincial Government (based on the John Gormley conversation of Tuesday), because it's a provincial Act. (I'll explain more on this in a future Blog Post - because it's so out to lunch it deserves it's own post - for now, just be assured this funding arrangement is indeed an optional program that Saskatoon has opted out of - as the City has ultimate authority on how these kind of projects are funded)

So, considering the City is seemingly so hard-up for revenue to help pay for necessary infrastructure upgrades, why is it that the same City Administration and City Council that deemed it so essential to gouge individual taxpayers are okay with subsidizing profitable businesses (like the Roughriders and Airport Authority) - simply because "that's the way it's been done for years"? Yesterday, at the Finance and Administration Committee, I delegated my concerns about this double standard. Of course, most of my concerns went unanswered, and of course, no questions were asked of me, because they are just too afraid to answer the hard questions that are being asked of them. Thankfully, more and more taxpayers are stepping up their efforts to demand answers, and it's showing in the continued censorship by the City of Regina. From banning people on their Social Media channels to Councillors completely ignoring their citizens calls and pointing them to City Hall to answer questions that should be the Councillor's concerns, to City Administration and the Mayor not returning phone calls and avoiding meetings with the public, it is obvious that the City is running scared. Should they be? Hell no. Taking a page from the book of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford (all personal issues aside, he is most certainly attainable and reachable as a Mayor - our Mayor could learn a lot from him), the Mayor and Administration should be readily accessible and ready to answer even the most pointed of questions thrown at them.

I brought the concerns of Property Tax Exemptions up to City Council back in December 2013, and a few other times before this. The response is complete and utter ignorance. Rather than answer the tough questions, City Council ignores and approves blindly. Again, I will bring these concerns to City Council on March 24, 2014. Will they listen? Chances are they will not - without a public outcry. Thankfully, the City is pissing many people off, so much so that they are gaining me more and more support to put more public pressure on the City and the Province to demand Accountability and Transparency from their elected officials. If they thought the Budget Meeting was a tough one, they're going to be in for a rude awakening at the next few meetings!

Finally today, please - if you haven't already - sign the online petition to demand a Public Inquiry and Audit into the Municipal Affairs in municipalities throughout Saskatchewan. This, too, I've pushed out to the media, but of course, since I'm an "attention-seeking-media-whore", they won't publish it. Ahh well, I guess I'll pay other organizations to advertise in the next few weeks. Their loss, the taxpayers gain.

UPDATE: The following was posted on the City of Regina Facebook page on Wednesday, and it is the best letter I have seen yet! Will the Mayor respond to this taxpayer? I'm betting he will give her the typical runaround or just ignore her serious concerns.

To City of Regina | Municipal Government: the citizens of your city have questions and are demanding answers. Recent fiscal decisions on behalf of the municipal government are appalling and unacceptable. I grew up in Regina and completed my first degree at the University of Regina. While I used to plan on moving back to Saskatchewan and making a home for myself there as an adult, the direction that the city has gone in (as guided by the municipal government) has greatly diminished the desirability (and feasibility) of doing so.

Fed up with the lack of respect this current administration shows to the People of Regina and in particular “those who are paying their taxes," my mother, a resident of Regina for the past 30+ years, wrote the following letter to the Mayor.

"Everyday my husband and I turn on the early morning news and are never disappointed to hear that something else is happening in the City of Regina that makes us want to pack up our house and move out West (and believe me, that is what we intend to do!).

What could be troubling us so much, you may ask? Well let’s list a few “highlights” from 2013 to present:

1. City approves going ahead with a new football stadium. What is this going to cost the taxpayers? Well let’s see: Regina city council is going ahead with a $100-million loan to help build a new football stadium for the CFL's Saskatchewan Roughriders. Councilors have given formal approval to borrowing the money and repaying it over the next 31 and a half years with an interest rate of 3.99 per cent. The rate will remain in effect over the life of the loan, with the city making semi-annual payments of just over $2.8 million.

Don’t get me started on why the citizens of Regina should NOT need to bear the burden of this astronomical loan when only a fraction of the Residents of Regina actually have any use for the stadium. The majority of the costs for this ridiculous project should NOT be on the burden of the Regina citizens. But this has been argued over and over and you have blinders on when it comes to this pet project of yours and Pat Fiaco’s so we won’t even waste any more time on this, other than to say that for the record the people of Regina were NOT behind this.

2. The City of Regina wants to boost property taxes by 7 % this year — the biggest hike in more than 30 years. Of course we all know that after some debate ( and likely a LOT of noise from the public), it has been decided to only increase taxes by 5.9% - how wonderful! So now we not only are paying the highest property taxes than any city in North America, we are having a steep increase (the highest in 30 years!) – all this within one year of you becoming Mayor. Congratulations!

3. Residents have to pay out of their own pockets to have sidewalks repaired- to the tune of $8,000 - $12,000 each! Really?? Since when does road and sidewalk repair not fall under a resident’s property taxes? In what universe do residents get invoiced for sidewalk repairs? I know – only one - in the City of Regina! How you can stand in front of the people of Regina with a straight face and actually stand behind such an outright abuse of the public’s interests is mind-boggling. What’s that you say? “We can petition it”? Really? When has that ever made a difference? The public speaking out against something (reminds me of the heated debates over the stadium - or see #4 below to see how effective the “public’s petitions” are).

4. The residents of Gardiner Park petition against a re-zoning of property on University Park Drive. They “petition” and attend public forums and 98% speak out against a 220-unit rental complex being permitted to be built on this site. City Council and the Mayor approve the re-zoning. Apparently it doesn’t matter that 98% of the residents in the area spoke out against this project. They attended every public forum and planning commission meeting to oppose this. But there’s another example of how the Mayor and City Council listen to the tax-paying residents of the City of Regina. They don’t!

5. The City of Regina is preparing to approve $2.55 million worth of property tax exemptions. Oh and the best part, one of the many organizations requesting exemption is none other than the Saskatchewan Roughriders! Really?? The one organization that makes the most money of any in the entire Province is getting an exemption from paying their share of property taxes? So let’s all build a stadium none of us can afford and then let’s let the Riders not have to pay their fair share of the property taxes in order to keep this city running! Sounds ludicrous to anyone who has an ounce of common sense. And the Regina Airport Authority? Really? Again, another major corporation who should not need to be exempt from paying their fair share of property taxes. And the RCMP ? Really? Why are they exempt from paying taxes? Move them to Saskatoon and let that city bear the burden of keeping them in town free of charge!

With more and more homes being built and new developments being created which bring in more revenues via astronomical property taxes, why on earth would the rest of the residents of this city have to have their taxes increased by 7%? Where on earth is our money going? Maybe you should stop approving exemptions to major organizations who can well afford to pay their fair share of taxes and stop wasting taxpayers’ dollars on astronomical loans for stadiums we don’t want or need. Start using your common sense and God-given brains. You were elected as Mayor – start working for the citizens and not the major corporations and building developers. They apparently aren’t paying the taxes (because they’re exempt!) – WE ARE!

Most sincerely,

Lori F, Tax-paying resident of the City of Regina (for the time being)

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