City Council Wrapup: Somebody Please Fix the Feedback Problem!

Don't know how much was spent on the year-old PA system in city hall, but that sure is some tax dollars hard at work.

Hard at work wrecking my hearing, that is.

Surprise shrieks of feedback have been happening since, well, since the system was installed as far as I can remember. But things have been getting steadily worse. Tonight, it seemed if anyone spoke even slightly louder than normal, they'd be greeted with howls from the speakers. It was clearly bothering some of the delegations and even warranted some very testy comments from Councillor Clipsham.

Apparently, the problem is "being looked into."

In other news, want to know how to really provoke council's ire? Suggest raising property taxes to avoid the necessity of a 25 cent transit fare increase.

That's what former mayoral candidate, Jim Elliott, did, and boy howdy, did they let him have it. Normally, when Elliott appears before council to promote his left-wing, radical socialist, hippy agenda, the response is a "seeing no questions, thank you, you may return to the gallery." Tonight there were questions. Questions aplenty.

Elliott's argument was essentially that while a 25 cent fare increase seems small, there was a 15 cent increase in August so the two should be considered together and a 40 cent increase over a calendar year is starting to look a little on the steep side. He suggested that any increase will have a negative impact on low income users of transit and that maybe further fare increases should wait until there are some demonstrable improvements to the transit system.

Under questioning, he suggested that a property tax increase would be preferable to a fare increase as it would spread the impact out farther.

Ignoring Elliott's point that the fare increase they should really be discussing is 40 cents over a year, Councillor Fougere argued that a 25 cent increase is very small and pointed out that the discounted transit passes for low income people are not increasing at all in price. He also wondered aloud if Elliott would rather transit users pay nothing to ride the bus. Elliot said, no, he'd just like to see their contribution to transit not increase at this time.

Councillor Hincks, who seemed very cranky at the suggestion of a tax increase, pointed out that Regina's transit rates, before this hike, is among the lowest in the country. Elliot argued that by keeping our transit fees lower than other cities we're giving ourselves a competitive advantage when it comes to attracting new residents. He didn't take the obvious dig that maybe our transit fees should be lower because our transit system isn't as good as other cities'.

Councillor Clipsham argued that the current ratio of user fees to city subsidization of transit is about right (one third paid for from fees, the rest from municipal coffers). He also asked the administration about the effect on ridership from last year's 15 cent price increase. According to the Director of Transit, David Onodera, ridership increased. This prompted Clipsham to suggest that Elliot's concerns that price hikes would drive people away were unfounded.

Once Elliott was allowed to return to his seat, I think he'd received more direct attention from city hall than during his entire run for mayor.

In the end, council voted unanimously that fares should go up.

Everything else on the agenda also passed unanimously. That includes the Transit Investment Plan and its attendant action plan.

The one exception was a motion made by Councillor Clipsham during discussion of the fare increase. He requested that administration, as part of their comprehensive review of parking, look into the feasibility and desirability of linking transit fares to downtown parking fees. Only councillors Fougere and Findura voted against this.

Oh yeah... A tip to anyone considering appearing as a delegate before council: If you're planning to say something critical of what council is doing -- especially if it has something to do with things like transit, programs for low income people or housing -- be prepared for this question: "Have you brought your concerns to the provincial government?"

Now, to be fair, the point council's making is that some of the stuff that people want to complain to them about is in part, or even wholly, a provincial concern. Still, the question is a great diversion tactic that can throw someone unused to council proceedings right off their game. (I should know. They hit me with a version of this the one time I appeared before council.)

Axe Cop

"One day, at the scene of a fire, the cop found the perfect fireman axe. That was the day he became Axe Cop"

So begins Axe Cop, an online comic strip that is drawn by Ethan Nicholle (age 29), and written by his younger brother Malachai (age 5). According to Ethan, his father has 'very healthy loins.'

The strip is wonderfully drawn, and the storyline should be familiar to anyone who thought or said anything at the age of five.

Read Axe Cop here.

Spoiler: Don't get too attached to Axe Cop's partner, Flute Cop. He becomes Dinosaur Soldier in the first episode!

This Week at City Hall: Transit Plan Part Two, Utilities Budget and Heritage Awards

Monday, February 22
City Council (5:30 pm): Council will be considering the Transit Investment Plan and the transit fare increase. Former mayoral candidate, Jim Elliott, will be speaking before council in favour of the former and in opposition to the latter.

Also, the water and sewer utility budget will be brought forward so that council can review it and then at their March 8 meeting decide whether or not it should be approved. If it does, it recommends a 8.9 per cent utility rate increase.

Council will also be deciding on whether or not it should pursue funding for a new, environmentally friendlier garbage truck and whether they should use debt incurred for the Global Transportation Hub for capital projects. They will also be reviewing the 2010 Regina Municipal Heritage Award recipients.

Tuesday, February 23
Community Services Advisory Committee (5:30 pm): Receiving a presentation on the Transit Investment Plan.

Wednesday, February 24
Regina Planning Commission (4:00 pm): Considering a recommendation to close an unused laneway and incorporate it into a piece of adjacent city property which would then be sold to the Regina Public School Board to facilitate the redevelopment of the Arcola School site. Also, considering an amendment to the Official Community Plan to reflect the addition to the city of land annexed for the Global Transportation Hub. The new territory will be called the West Industrial Lands.

You knew this was coming

In other news, Prime Minister Stephen Harper is demanding that the Vancouver Winter Olympics be prorogued ... (The Globe and Mail).

Pick of the Day: Playwrights Reading Series

From time to time the University of Regina Theate Department, in conjunction with a handful of partners like the Saskatchewan Writers Guild and Saskatchewan Playwrights Centre, presents a reading by a local or visiting playwright. Now, when playwrights write, of course, it's usually with the goal of seeing their work performed by accomplished actors on an evocative set. But before a script is "stage ready" it usually goes through all sorts of readings and workshops to give the playwright a sense of how the work is translating from the page.

Tonight's guest playwright is Stephen Massicotte (pictured). Possessing a BFA in Drama from the University of Calgary, Massicotte has written several award-winning plays that have been produced by theatre companies across Canada, among them Mary's Wedding (2002), The Oxford Roof Climber's Rebellion (2007) and The Clockmaker (2008); and the Jedi Handbooks triology. He's also penned screenplays for Ginger Snaps Back: The Beginning (2004) and The Dark (2005).
He reads tonight at 8 p.m. at the Shu-Box Theatre at Riddell Centre.