Regina approves budget, votes down homeless funding

Regina approves budget, votes down homeless funding

Attempts by councilors Stevens and LeBlanc to bring homeless people into the household are thwarted.

REGINA — Regina City Council has approved its multi-year operating and capital budget with a 3.67 percent increase in mill rate for 2023 and a 4.5 percent increase in utility benefits.

The final result called for a one point cut in the final mill rate from the originally proposed 4.67 percent by the administration. Despite attempts to lower the proposed power increase, the Council eventually accepted the administration’s proposal.

The end result concludes a deeply controversial budget deliberation process and was a win for city councillors, who this week raised concerns about the affordability pressures Regina residents are facing.

The result also spelled final defeat for homeless advocates and their supporters on the council, who were looking for a line item for funding with a Housing First model. Ultimately, the council did not include homeless funding.

Bresciani’s movement turned the tide

The key moment in budget considerations came very early on Friday when an amendment was passed to take the increase in the operating rate down by one notch.

For the operating budget, a motion was tabled by Councilor Lori Bresciani to set the increase at $3.67 and direct management to implement $2.9 million in internal efficiencies without negatively impacting the budget. The administration would also bring back quarterly reports outlining its efforts.

As expected, the biggest challenge came from Councilor Andrew Stevens and Councilor Dan LeBlanc, both of whom were behind the unsuccessful court motion to include homeless funding as a line item in the budget. On Friday, both attempted to apply for funding.

Stevens introduced an amendment that proposed replacing the 0.5-mill dedicated recreation rate with an annual increase in the 0.5-mill rate Permanent Supportive Housing for operating the operating grant for five years.

This drew a decidedly negative reaction from Council members, who wanted the recovery mill rate to remain. In the end, Stevens’ motion failed by a vote of 8-3.

Stevens then attempted to move the 0.5 permanent supportive housing grant as a standalone grant without cutting the 0.5 recovery mill rate. But Mayor Sandra Masters’ advice was that that would be ruled out as that would have deviated from the 3.67 million rate under discussion from the previously postponed Bresciani motion.

In a subsequent conversation with reporters, Stevens made it known that he felt the way the Bresciani motion was structured shortened the debate.

“The way the original motion was built around the budget was actually forbidden and it was decided that any kind of change was out of the question unless you can find corresponding cuts in the budget, so we couldn’t even go over that talk or say it on the floor,” Stevens said.

“That’s what I mean by the compulsion of democratic debate. This is the last meeting where that should happen. And again, I don’t think it was set up that way on purpose, but the effect was the same.”

Council member Bresciani told reporters there was “no intention of stifling any talks in the council”. She pointed out that if her motion had been denied, Councilor Stevens could have advanced his motion.

She made it clear that her intention was to address affordability concerns she was hearing from local residents.

“I’ve had families say, ‘I can’t afford to stay in my house, so either I’m going to move, I’m going to try to find a rent, and I can’t afford food if it keeps growing’ “, she said.

When asked by reporters if Stevens’ claim to the wording of the motion had stifled the debate, Mayor Masters replied, “Excuse me, you’re talking about the man who sued our mayor? Yes, I won’t say anything.”

Council proceedings would later snag Councilor LeBlanc’s efforts to get his motion through. He indicated that he wanted to table an amendment that would accommodate 100 people for an average of $2.55 per month.

“I think we owe it to the people who came out yesterday, the people who are dying in the streets, the people who are in tents right now, to at least have that discussion,” LeBlanc said.

But LeBlanc also acknowledged his motion to have the floor, the main motion had to be denied. In the end it didn’t happen.

The final vote on the budget proposal for the Bresciani operations was achieved 7-4. When the balance sheet was announced, several homeless fund supporters in the audience shouted “Shame!”

When asked about some reactions to the operating finance vote, Mayor Masters said, “It’s a natural outcome when you have a controversial approach to an issue.”

“To say that some people aren’t frustrated with the way things have been handled over the past few months would be wrong.”

The final results disappointed both LeBlanc and Stevens.

“I said to my wife this morning, if we don’t take homelessness seriously this time after what happened yesterday, we won’t take it seriously,” Leblanc said. “So there’s certainly a deflated feeling.”

“I think that was a historic moment, a historic opportunity, and we blew it.”

Where they’re going from here on the homelessness issue, Stevens said, “I’m going home. Some people don’t.”

“I don’t know what else to say. You know there’s this wish list, that somehow the province is going to develop a Housing First strategy… It’s not happening. I think there are a lot of conversations that we see, but we don’t need more conversations. The evidence is there, you need a coordinated system.”

Other budget items

In addition to Stevens and LeBlanc, council members Cheryl Stadnichuk and Shanon Zachidniak also voted against the operating budget motion. Stadnichuk was concerned that cutting the mill rate increase to 3.67 percent would tie her hands on what to do, while Zachidniak managed. She knew she was uncomfortable approving the budget without having more clarity how the $2.9 million efficiencies would come about.

Zachidniak attempted to delay a transfer of the operating budget back to administration pending a return of an efficiency report, but lost by a vote of 7-4.

Approval of the capital budget went far more smoothly, with the council voting 10-1 in favor with councilor Zachidniak being the only no vote.

The utilities’ operating and capital budgets were also approved, but not without drama. Councilor John Findura had tabled an amendment proposing a reduced increase in the utility rate from 4.5 percent to 3.5 percent without adversely affecting operations. But that vote ultimately ended in a 6-5 loss.

There were also some attempts at change by Councilor Landon Mohl, who opposed water fluoridation. It would have pushed back $2.5 million in funding for the Community Water Fluoridation Plan to 2024, essentially pushing back the previously approved project by a year. The movement lost 9-2.

Mohl later tried again with an amendment that would have directed the city clerk to include the question “Do you want fluoride in the City of Regina’s drinking water system?” on the ballot for the 2024 municipal election. That also failed with 9:2 votes.

In the end, the council approved the government’s original recommendation for a 4.5 percent operating and capital increase for utilities. It passed 8-3 with Findura, Nelson and Mohl voting against.

The final vote to approve the entire operating, capital and utility budget passed 8-3 with only Stevens, LeBlanc and Mohl voting against.

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