The 2018 provincial budget lessened the blow that municipalities experienced last year, but austerity is still on the table. Fortunately the City’s budget anticipated the impact. Returned to the City of Regina was the revenue collected through the 5% surcharge on SaskEnergy bills. Grants-in-lieu of property taxes for SaskEnergy and SaskPower office buildings will also be provided. The fundamentals of the Municipal Revenue Sharing (MRS) program – which provides a significant portion of Regina’s revenue - was maintained. The government announced a review of the MRS program and committed to ensuring that municipalities continue to receive predictable and stable funding. What remains uncertain is the province’s contribution to transit, which is critical as our cities grow. Keep in mind that Saskatchewan is predominately an urban province and should be investing more in public transportation.
As a parent I’m disappointed that the provincial budget failed to reverse the cuts to education that were implemented last year. Municipal ratepayers still pay more for less. This will negatively impact our province in the long term. I’m also disappointed that the rental supplement is being phased out. Under the current system a family with one to two children living in Saskatoon or Regina can receive a maximum supplement of $305 per month under the program, while a single person can receive a maximum disability supplement of $262 per month. The government’s rationale is based on the fact that vacancy rates have stabilized. However, this has not stopped rents from climbing. The CMHC anticipates average rent for a two-bedroom apartment to rise in our city from $1,115 to $1,120 in 2018. Rent, and house prices generally have long outstripped wage increases. This reality is negatively impacting more and more residents, with the most marginalized members of our community being hit the hardest. The Ministry of Social Services highlights more talks and consultation as part of their housing action plan, not meaningful funding. Spending will grow as a consequence of higher caseloads – that means just keeping up with the rate of poverty. The Housing First program fails to even receive a mention in the Ministry’s budget report.
Although less of a blow than the 2017 budget, Saskatchewan remains in a holding pattern when it comes to addressing serious issues like the environment, housing, poverty, economic development, and infrastructure. My hope is that future budgets have a sturdier urban focus.