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Regina chapter calls on City Council to challenge Wall government on grants-in-lieu cut

The Council of Canadians Regina chapter is presenting at a City Council meeting this evening on the municipal impacts of the provincial government’s austerity budget.

CBC reports, “Regina city council is meeting Monday evening to discuss options for tackling its $10.3-million funding shortfall. The shortfall is largely a result of the elimination of the provincial grants-in-lieu program, which saw the Crown corporations SaskPower and SaskEnergy transfer payments to municipalities.”

(For context, “The province is constitutionally exempt from paying taxes to municipalities. However, in the 1998-99 Budget [under the NDP government of Premier Roy Romanow], the province announced that it would begin payment of grants-in-lieu to municipalities in an amount equal to the general property tax levy for properties owned or managed by the Ministry of Central Services.”)

CJME notes, “Details of the city’s amended budget were released [on Friday]. Highlighted in it was a recommended 2.5 per cent mill rate increase, which would be on top of the approved 3.99 per cent increase in the budget in February. Other recommendations included a $1 million reduction in the Regina Police Service budget and a 20 per cent increase in street use permits and traffic bylaw fees. The administration’s recommendation does not include the use of the millions of dollars the city has in reserve funds. [Mayor Michael] Fougere said he stands behind that.”

Chapter activist Jim Elliott has posted on Facebook the presentation he will make to City Council tonight.

Elliott says, “By doing what you might do, in my mind, you are as bad and as ideologically against the very fabric that is Regina and this province as the Brad Wall government who has pushed this on to your plate. So far, I have heard no outrage or anger. I have heard no public response.”

He adds, “What I see in this proposed budget change is outright social abandonment, something that we clearly have seen with the Saskatchewan Party and Harper governments. Where is the hope that we were going to be more sustainable and inclusive? Why is there a sense of fatalism portrayed by you, our council? Why are you giving up?”

And he will ask Regina City Council, “Join the growing number of cities to take the provincial government to court and force them to return the grants-in-lieu. This will ultimately return the grant-in-lieu. Secondly, I would use the remainder of the 2016 surplus, some $9.9 million discussed in February, and put it into replacing the losses proposed. And if there is still a need to balance the budget, then a modest tax increase is warranted, much less than the 2.5 per cent proposed.”

A fuller list of the cuts to be discussed can be read here. Regina city council is expected to vote on this amended budget tonight.