City & Politics, City Hall

Regina’s debt dilemma

The citizens of Regina should expect to pay out the nose for services in the future, as city council recently asked for an increase in the city’s debt load.

It was only last September when the city requested and received a debt load limit of $350 million. More than seven months later, the city is against requesting an increase of that debt load limit by $100 million. This would put Regina’s potential debt capacity at $450 million.

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This request for increase is simple: a $100 million loan is needed to pay for the dome-less/roofless/uncovered new Saskatchewan Roughriders stadium. You can attempt to obfuscate this new building and say it’s really a “multi-purpose” facility for various attractions, but there will only be one major tenant of this 32,000-seat stadium. And it won’t be the Dallas Cowboys.

Council points out this massive loan will be repaid through extra charges on the football tickets. But those extra charges amount to about $12 per ticket, which means this $100 million loan won’t be paid off for at least 30 years. Frankly, the City of Regina better pray the Roughriders remain successful on the football field so people continue to come to the games.

One only needs to look back over the last 30 years to see the team has regularly underperformed both in expectations and on the field. Yes, the team has won two Grey Cups and made it to five in total, but the team has also finished with more sub-.500 records than above-.500 records. The 1980s and especially the 1990s were uncomfortable decades to watch football in this province.

The original reason for the request $350 million debt load limit was to pay for major (and some majorly needed) capital projects in the upcoming years. Those projects include the waste water treatment plant, a new police headquarters and yes, the new football stadium. The city is currently $81 million in debt, with the debt projected to be $300 million by 2017.

Now, for the current and future residents of this great city, having such a massive debt load will be an impingement on services provided by the city. It is quite difficult to both pay off debt and provided the same or better services. Regina is a growing, expanding city. Its population right now is about 210,000 people. That is expected to rise to about 260,000 in the next decade or so.

How can the city adequately provide the very best services, and maintain those services, when it has a $450 million debt millstone around its neck? How can we expect to improve our bus system, street improvements and-–most importantly–-snow clearing abilities when we have to make payments on a massive debt load?

If you divide $450 million by, let’s say 250,000 people, you get about $1,800 per man, woman, and child. That doesn’t seem like much, but consider the fact Regina is not as large as Winnipeg or Calgary. Moreover, not all 250,000 people will be working and paying taxes. This means fewer people will be paying taxes to make up for those not working.

It’s a joke in Regina that there are only two seasons: winter and construction. In construction season, the main arteries and streets in Regina are continually being upgraded and fixed to handle the beating they take on a daily basis. Most potholes get fixed in the process. In winter, with the freezing and thawing effect, major potholes open up.

Thankfully, they are filled with snow and you never see them for seven or eight months, but once that snow melts, you not only see but feel those pesky potholes. If you aren’t driving a truck in the wintertime, your vehicle will most likely get pounded by the ruts and potholes.

How can the city realistically pay for improving these services if it has to make debt payments every month or so? My main concern is the fact the city needs a few more graders which can go around to residential areas and clean up the snowy messes that accumulate frequently.

Parts of my street look like a wintery Passchendaele; the snow-packed road resembles Swiss cheese with dinner plate-sized holes. It would be great if a grader could come by and level out the street. I’m not keen on having to continue riding the Robert’s Place roller coaster every morning.

But I must have faith in my elected officials. After all, 9 of the 10 city councillors always vote for these extravagant projects and other head-scratching motions. They must know better than me. If we need a new stadium at the expense of more pertinent, necessary, day-to-day services and utilities, then by God it must be true.

Jason Antonio is the Regina correspondent for Spectator Tribune.