Electoral reformers should watch the Black Street vote very carefully.
Thanks to the Yukon Municipal Act, it’s an oddball vote. But it may hold the key to voter apathy.
Sure, it’s easy to ignore the municipal act. Until your city politicians try to levy a fee against your property.
Then, suddenly, it means something.
This is what Black Street residents have discovered lately as Whitehorse tries to stick them with the cost of sidewalks, sewers and saplings in their vicinity.
It’s called a local improvement charge. And the city can levy it on capital projects, resulting operations and maintenance costs and services that it deems benefits a specific community more than the wider municipality.
In the case of Black Street, that means the city is sinking new sewer and water pipes underground, then beautifying the streets once the work is done. Not to put too fine a point on it, that seems to make some sense.
But it is expensive.
With interest, it’s going to cost each property owner roughly $11,000 over the next 10 years.
Many residents want the pipes. However, the landscaping is something some of them could do without. And, they argue, the sprucing up benefits the city at large more than locals, so they shouldn’t foot the bill.
Besides, they don’t know what they’re buying.
For this, the city is to blame.
The whole project has been a cock-up.
The city has now met with residents five times. Some still don’t know what’s going on.
After the last meeting, it was supposed to notify the few dozen residents about a public hearing into the local-improvement charge by mail.
But officials couldn’t get their act together to post the letters, which did little to bolster public confidence in the expensive construction project.
As a result, a public meeting on November 8 was invalidated. Now city officials are shooting for another on December 13.
After that, comes the vote: The electoral reformers ought to watch.
In this case, only votes against the project count. If a resident fails to vote, the missing ballot is counted in favour of the project.
Imagine the implications … it would be like having an incumbent mayor whom you can only vote out if you physically walk down to polling place and cast a vote against them.
If you like the mayor, simply stay home watching TMZ – that apathy would help get the incumbent elected.
But wrong. Votes for flesh-and-blood politicians don’t work that way.
It wouldn’t be fair.
Instead, such wonky rules only apply to intangible things, like expensive local improvement charge votes, which are, essentially, a check on the will of city bureaucrats.
So, those opposed to the local improvement charge will, literally, pay for it if they stay home on voting day.
Which makes Black Street a vote to watch.
If turnout exceeds 50 per cent, then perhaps we’ll have found a solution to voter apathy.
You want to encourage interest in democracy, simply ding every citizen $11,000 if enough of ‘em stay home.
Electoral reformers take note.