Regina council approves debt financing, mill rate increase for central library renewal

Future plans for the Regina Public Library's central branch are starting to take shape.  (Alexander Quon/CBC News - image credit)
Future plans for the Regina Public Library's central branch are starting to take shape. (Alexander Quon/CBC News - image credit)

Discussions on the future of the Regina Central Library have persisted for more than a decade, with leaders stuck in a cycle of discussing what could be done and whether the cost was worth it.

At a special council meeting on Tuesday, the future of the library became a little more clear.

In a 4-3 vote, council approved a request from the Regina Public Library board of directors to be able to take on debt to finance the renewal of the central library branch.

"There's one thing that's absolutely clear — that we need to do something about the central library," said Ward 2 Coun. Bob Hawkins. "That discussion has gone on since 2009 and it's time to move the discussion forward."

Council approved a plan for between $92 million and $119 million in debt financing for the planned project.

The vote went against the recommendation of city administration, which was asking council to defer its decision until the third quarter of 2024, when the administration could provide a recommendation on the financing of other capital projects.

Hawkins put forward the motion to approve the debt financing for the central library now, citing the need to commit to the project, in order for council and the library board to move forward with planning.

Council also approved, in principle, a dedicated library mill rate increase of 5.5 per cent every year for five years, with that money put into a reserve account for the central library.

The increase amounts to 92 cents per month, or  $11.53 per year, for an average Regina homeowner.

Hawkins was joined by Ward 5 Coun. John Findura, Ward 9 Coun. Jason Mancinelli and Mayor Sandra Masters in voting in favour of the motion while Ward 4 Coun. Lori Bresciani, Ward 7 Coun. Terina Nelson and Ward 1 Coun. Cheryl Stadnichuk opposed the motion.

Many of the concerns raised by councillors was the need for fiscal responsibility.

"Budgets don't balance themselves and money doesn't just come out of thin air. It comes from taxpayers," said Nelson.

Many things remain to be settled about the project and its future. That includes whether it will involve the construction of a new building, the renovation of another building or upgrades to the existing central library on 12th Avenue.

Regina city councillor Bob Hawkins speaks with media on July 6, 2022.
Regina city councillor Bob Hawkins speaks with media on July 6, 2022.

Ward 2 Coun. Bob Hawkins says that 'it's time to move the discussion forward' on plans for the central library. (Alexander Quon/CBC News)

"We want to keep all of those options open, but the only way we could do that is to invite the developers, those folks that would build a new library, to come forward with their ideas," said Hawkins. "To do that, we need a financial commitment from city council."

Last month, the Regina Public Library board approved a plan — contingent on receiving the city's approval — to begin a 16-month-long procurement process that will cost $1.5 million.

The scope of the project, initially approved in 2022, has downsized from a 159,000-square-foot building to a smaller, 125,000-square-foot building.

The project is estimated to cost between $125 million and $150 million, including debt in the range of $92 million to $119 million.

Once the procurement process is completed, the board would go back to city council to finalize debt numbers before starting construction.

Administration staffing

Barry Lacey, the city's deputy manager of financial strategy, is not renewing his contract — his last day was on Friday.

City manager Niki Anderson explained to council the importance of replacing Lacey because he was the CFO of Regina Exhibition Association Limited (REAL) and there was a need to have accounting expertise on the board now that he is gone.

At Tuesday's special meeting, Masters presented a motion to add a position to REAL's board of directors.

That item was moved to next week's council meeting after there wasn't unanimous consent to add it to the agenda for Tuesday's meeting.