Regina city council approves 5.9 per cent property tax hike
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Homeowners in Regina are facing the largest property tax increase of the past five years, as well as hikes to water and sewer rates, after city council approved its 2014 operating, capital and utility budgets during a special meeting on Monday.
Councilors voted to increase property taxes by 5.9 per cent this year -whittled down from the seven per cent figure proposed in the draft budget- with one per cent of that hike to be dedicated to a new street renewal program.
"We've all heard what residents were telling us...they're saying it's too much," Mayor Michael Fougere said of council's move to cut down the proposed tax rate hike. "We have not changed the fabric or intent of the budget."
A half per cent cut in the proposed rate increase came after council passed a motion spearheaded by Coun. Sharron Bryce to direct $1 million of the city's 2013 surplus towards this year's budget.
The decision to move the motion, she said, was prompted by feedback from citizens who told her the seven per cent total was too much for them to stomach.
Many public delegations, which aided in pushing the meeting past the midnight mark, pressed council to seek out ways to reduce the proposed tax increase.
Marilyn Braun-Pollon, vice-president of prairie and agri-business with the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, urged greater fiscal restraint on the part of council, claiming her members were concerned that the hike would "hinder" the ability of local businesses to grow and expand.
"We do fear that the proposed...property tax hike would move us further away from fiscal accountability," she said.
Earlier in the annual budget meeting, council backed hiking water and sewer rates by eight per cent in 2014 and again in 2015.
"The financial model put forward is very sustainable going forward," Fougere said of the rate increase. "The essence here is clean drinking water and the disposal of waste water."
The average customer will face an increase of less than $10 a month on their water bill.
Jim Holmes, spokesperson for Regina Water Watch, accused the city of shortchanging low-income residents by charging what he said was one of the highest basic water rates of any major city in Western Canada.
While acknowledging that the increase was "unfortunate," Coun. Shawn Fraser said it was a needed expense to keep pace with the rising cost of maintaining the city's water infrastructure.
"If we don't pay for what we use now," he added, "it's only the next generation that has to look out after it."