City councillor proposes land bank idea over increasing taxes

By Raquel Fletcher, Global News, February 25, 2014 - REGINA - A marathon debate at city hall Monday night that went past midnight resulted in a decision by council to raise property taxes 5.9 percent. It’s a big tax increase which Ward three councillor Shawn Fraser is concerned will be hard on many Regina residents. However, he has an even bigger concern about rising infrastructure debt the city can’t afford. “It’s close to $2 billion of roads and pipes and these sorts of things that we don’t have a plan to replace them with, so that can’t all be handled by tax increases alone,” Fraser said on Tuesday.

Fraser suggested the city should look at other options to generate revenue: ”At some point, Regina should look into a land development corporation, something like a crown corp, but at a municipal level.”

He used the Saskatoon Land Bank, which has existed since 1950, as an example. Instead of selling the land to a private developer, the city develops it itself. Last year, the City of Saskatoon generated $125 million from the land bank.

“We’ve been able to fund some affordable housing incentives with it and influencing supply is a really big component of it as well,” said Saskatoon land development director, Frank Long. “It doesn’t come without risks.  It’s a very capital intensive business to be in, but the rewards are definitely there too.”

The mayor says it’s something he would consider.

“Certainly the land bank is intriguing. It’s been on our radar for a number of years with council and it’s been rejected in the past because we didn’t own enough land to be a land bank. We now own more land, but we certainly couldn’t be in the market as big as Saskatoon is,” said Mayor Michael Fougere.

He also hesitates about putting the city into competition with private business.

Fraser has another suggestion developers might not like: The councillor wants to increase the service agreement fee developers pay to the city to reflect the true cost of growth and decay because sprawling developments also mean more infrastructure needs down the line to replace sidewalks and repair roads, etc.

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