Councillor questions city’s about face

Ranj Pillai was the only councillor to vote against the city's operation and maintenance budget when it was passed this spring. "I wasn't comfortable with the tax increase," he said.

Ranj Pillai was the only councillor to vote against the city’s operation and maintenance budget when it was passed this spring.

“I wasn’t comfortable with the tax increase,” he said.

“I wanted to dig deeper and look for increased savings.”

But Pillai was told that was impossible. If the city cut operations and maintenance costs, it wouldn’t be able to supply the same services, he was told.

Six months later, the city has found itself $800,000 in the hole.

So it has dug deeper to increase savings by cutting operations and maintenance costs.

And now, Pillai is being told that it won’t impact services, after all.

“So, six months ago the city said it couldn’t reduce taxes, and now it’s making up an $800,000 shortfall,” he said.

“So the obvious question is, why, during the budget process, when I asked if there was room to reduce taxes, was I told the city wouldn’t be able to supply the same services, and now they’re doing it?”

Every $250,000 the city spends in operation and maintenance costs is the equivalent of a one per cent tax increase, said Pillai. So, every $250,000 the city saves in operation and maintenance costs should result in a one per cent tax decrease.

Now, after watching as the city cut $800,000 out of its budget to pull itself out of the hole, Pillai has some questions.

“The city just came up with more than a one per cent tax decrease, after saying this was impossible six months ago, so why, as a taxpayer, should I trust the system?” he said.

“Where’s the accountability?”

To make up the missing money, the city is cutting one per cent in salary costs. This affects things like the amount acting officials make when they step up to fill vacancies.

The city is also axing some capital projects, including design work in Hillcrest and $225,000 in landscaping and community upgrades in Takhini.

There are bigger problems than just correcting this year’s shortfall, said Pillai, who is worried about the impact these capital cuts will have on Whitehorse communities.

“Senior management has said this kind of thing happens from time to time,” he said.

“Well, if this is a trend, then that’s a problem.”

At council this week, Pillai came up with a plan.

He wants a third party to come in and scrutinize the city’s spending.

This isn’t just an audit, said Pillai.

“It would be an effectiveness and efficiency analysis.”

City councillors were just informed of the $800,000 budget shortfall a few weeks ago.

Pillai wants to know why it wasn’t made public earlier.

And he wants to know why the city staff responsible for the huge cost overruns weren’t “walked to the front door.”

“These are tough questions, and I feel bad asking them,” said Pillai.

“But that’s why we’re elected.”

Contact Genesee Keevil at gkeevil@yukon-news.com

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