Burning money

It's nice having a sugar daddy. Yukoners can squander millions with barely a thought, and there are never any consequences. Take the city's new public safety building at the top of Two Mile Hill.

It’s nice having a sugar daddy.

Yukoners can squander millions with barely a thought, and there are never any consequences.

Take the city’s new public safety building at the top of Two Mile Hill.

Now, we don’t want to begrudge doomsayers their new digs, but there is a significant amount of extravagance hidden in this project.

It will be built to post-disaster standards, which evokes visions of Charlton Heston’s zombie-resistant hideout in the Omega Man.

But such overbuilt facilities don’t come cheap, even in a generational recession.

The city is spending $10.4 million on the place.

This is slightly more than the $4 million the city was going to spend to build a new fire hall on the site in 2006.

Of course, inflation happens.

By February 2007, that price had climbed to $5 million. And then, in May 2007, the safety building’s price tag rose to $9 million because offices for bylaw services were added and officials decided it should be earthquake proof.

At that price, the city couldn’t cover the cost on its own. It had to seek a mortgage, and politicians delayed the project.

Now it’s estimated at $10.4 million, which isn’t out of line with the 2007 figure. Ottawa is paying for it through the gas tax transfer, so Whitehorse politicians are going ahead with the project.

But, though it packs a lot of disaster-fighting punch, the new facility isn’t all it could be.

And that’s the real extravagance.

Originally, the Two Mile Hill public safety centre was to house fire and ambulance services.

That made a lot of sense.

Firefighters had been waiting for new digs since 2003. The overcrowded ambulance crews have been waiting at least that long.

At one time, the city and Yukon government were working together to put them in a single public safety centre.

That made a lot of sense.

One dispatch centre. One kitchen. One gym. One entertainment complex.

The city and Yukon government (and, ultimately, Ottawa) would save money building it and running it—heating, cleaning and other operation and maintenance costs would be shared.

Besides, for the emergency crews, the cribbage tourneys would have been more exciting.

But it didn’t happen.

To be clear, this is not the city’s fault.

The Fentie government reneged on the deal.

Fentie’s team didn’t know how to make it work. It dragged its heels and, eventually, told the city it was not joining the venture, breaking a campaign promise in the bargain.

That forced the city to shoulder the cost alone.

Things looked dicey, until it tapped the federal gas tax fund.

Now, the city is spending a lot of federal money building an emergency hub at the top of Two Mile Hill.

And some time in the near future, the Yukon government will spend a lot of federal money building a second facility for its ambulance crews.

It, too, will probably have to be built to post-disaster standards.

Both will have dorms, gyms, meeting rooms, kitchens, dispatch centres, and garages. They’ll both have to be heated and cleaned.

The total cost will be more than $20 million.

And running those two facilities will be expensive - so the cost of running the territory will increase.

The next territorial budget might even hit $1.1 billion—another landmark achieved.

But, as noted, that money comes from Ottawa. So who cares?

However, one wonders what the decision would have been if the Yukon public had to foot the entire bill. (Richard Mostyn)

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