City budget debate heats up

Whitehorse's proposed operating budget is facing opposition from at least two councillors. When city administrators recommended the budget be moved forward for second reading on Monday, Coun.

Whitehorse’s proposed operating budget is facing opposition from at least two councillors.

When city administrators recommended the budget be moved forward for second reading on Monday, Coun. Doug Graham was the first to voice his disapproval.

Graham is opposed to the city’s four per cent tax hike.

Administrative services responded to criticism of the hike by pointing out that it will still be low compared to other municipalities.

But Graham took issue with how the city made its calculations.

The city has simply added past tax increases together, said Graham.

Instead, it should have counted them cumulatively.

This is how the consumer price index and other figures are counted.

Not counting tax increases cumulatively skews the comparison, he said.

“The only thing not listed as cumulative was the tax rate,” said Graham.

“I like to compare apples to apples.”

Coun. Betty Irwin also opposed the budget.

“I can’t accept a deficit budget,” said Irwin.

According to calculations she made using a formula borrowed from the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, the city has increased spending 1.5 times more than is needed to keep pace with inflation and population growth.

“Over a four-year period our excess spending is $8 million,” said Irwin, who would like to see city management find ways to cut costs.

In her view, a 1.5 per cent tax increase should be the goal.

And that set off the debate.

“We’ve been working towards a four per cent budget,” said Mayor Bev Buckway. “It’s almost incomprehensible to come to council tonight and send them back now for a 1.5 per cent budget.”

Coun. Dave Stockdale, who supported Buckway, asked Irwin, “Would you close the Canada Games Centre to save a $1.77 a week?”

Irwin said it was a possibility, but when pressed by Stockdale, Graham sprung to her defence.

“If you’re going to ask stupid questions don’t do it in a public forum,” he said.

City staff should be making recommendations on where to make cuts, not council, said Graham.

“It’s not my job to go through the budget line by line and figure out where to make cuts,” he said. “We don’t get it line by line.”

The budget will go forward for second and third readings next week when debate will continue.

Contact Josh Kerr at joshk@yukon-news.com

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