A man walks past potholes on Alexander Street between 2nd Ave and 4th Ave in Whitehorse. (Jesse Winter/Yukon News)

Gone to potholes: Whitehorse proposes local improvement charge to help fund Alexander St. repairs

Under proposal, local property owners would cover $475k of $3.2M project

Whitehorse city staff are recommending a local improvement charge (LIC) to help pay for the reconstruction of Alexander Street from Second Avenue to Fourth Avenue, city council heard at the Sept. 18 standing committee meeting.

As per the city’s four-year capital plan, Alexander Street has been “identified for full reconstruction of the roadway and deep utilities,” said Taylor Eshpeter, the city’s assistant engineer. Proposed improvements include the replacement of water and sewer mains, improved street lighting, new sidewalks, angled parking on both sides of the street and concrete gutters and curbs to improve drainage in the area.

The proposed LIC would affect 22 properties, Eshpeter said. Property owners in the project area will get to vote on the application of the LIC. Each property counts as one vote, which means that if a person owns multiple properties on Alexander Street, they get a number of votes equal to the number of affected properties, he said.

Under the proposed LIC, residential and not-for-profit properties would pay $633.33 per metre of frontage, commercial properties $1,266.67 per metre and government-owned properties $1,900 per metre. This means total LIC costs for the project range from $2,200 at the low end to $90,000 at the high end, depending on the property size and type, said Ellis. The median cost for property owners for the project would be about $19,000, he said.

Property owners could pay out the entire amount up front if they wished, or amortize the cost over 15 years, Eshpeter said.

The total budget for the project is $3.2 million, with about $475,500 coming from the improvement charge, Eshpeter said. The remaining $2.7 million would come from the federal Building Canada fund, which has already been secured.

Affected property owners have been notified via letters, telephone calls, an online survey and an open house on the project held Sept. 9 at the library, Eshpeter said. However, only one property owner attended the meeting and only one property owner did the survey, responding at the time that they were uncertain if they supported the LIC or not.

“I’m wondering why there is such a complete lack of interest on the part of the of the property owners,” said Coun. Betty Irwin.

Eshpeter said he didn’t have an answer.

“It was pretty low attendance,” Espeter said in an interview. “That can be a good thing. We didn’t have a room full of property owners screaming ‘Don’t do this!’ at us, which is something we’ve definitely had before.”

Eshpeter said that he left the online survey open after the deadline to give people an extra chance to weigh in on the LIC, and personally called seven owners to speak to them about the issue.

Currently, there is “no reason to believe there isn’t,” support for the project, he said.

Securing public support for this improvement charge was a critical issue for council, who still recall the surprise defeat of the much-debated Hillcrest charge. Property owners rejected that LIC in May of this year, basically scrapping years worth of work by city planners and rejecting $14 million in already-approved federal funding for the project.

“I’ve seen this go south before,” said Coun. Rob Fendrick. “I’d hate to see a waste of time.”

“I think we’ve learned lessons from our last LIC,” said Coun. Samson Hartland.

Eshpeter said he felt this LIC would be received more positively.

“I feel good about (the proposed LIC). We have our systems dialled in and good trust with downtown property owners,” he said.

In response to a question posed by Coun. Roslyn Woodcock regarding why this street in particular was slated for such intensive reconstruction, Eshpeter said the repairs were needed “based on the condition of deep utilities, which are at the end of their service life.” The main sewer line, he said, was in such bad condition that it has to be checked weekly to see if it needs servicing, and that it had backed up in the past.

“It’s on our list of what we call our ‘problem areas’,” he said. “Any money put into maintenance at this point is basically lost.”

Mayor Dan Curtis agreed the repairs are needed, noting the street is full of potholes.

“I repeatedly get calls from my mother about the condition of Alexander Street,” he joked.

Council will give the proposed bylaw a first reading at the regular council meeting Sept. 25. Pending first reading approval, the city will mail information to property owners Sept. 27 and hold a public hearing Oct 10.

The public response period will close Nov. 2 with a report on the hearing presented to council Nov. 6 and a final reading of the bylaw tentatively scheduled for Nov. 14.

Contact Lori Fox at lori.fox@yukon-news.com

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