our fair city

While life isn't always fair, citizens often have an expectation that it should be. Which is why the city of Whitehorse has a problem. In 2008, officials wanted to improve the sewer and water system below Industrial Road, lay new asphalt, install curbs and sidewalks and do a little landscaping.

While life isn’t always fair, citizens often have an expectation that it should be.

Which is why the city of Whitehorse has a problem.

In 2008, officials wanted to improve the sewer and water system below Industrial Road, lay new asphalt, install curbs and sidewalks and do a little landscaping.

To recover some of the cost, it wanted to impose a local-improvement charge on people living on the road.

But property owners told the city to get stuffed.

The work was put off.

In 2010, officials wanted to improve the sewer and water system below Black Street, lay new asphalt, install curbs and sidewalks and do a little landscaping.

To recover some of the cost, it wanted to impose a local improvement charge on people living on the street.

But property owners told the city to get stuffed.

Here, the stories diverge.

Whitehorse just approved its 2011 budget. In it, the city will fix Industrial Road’s pipes, lay asphalt, put in curbs and sidewalks and other stuff.

But it won’t impose a local-improvement charge on landowners.

So far, Black Street residents are not being offered a similar break.

Why?

Well, the rules are what we call “bendy.”

That is, there are none laying out, specifically, whether a local improvement charge will be levied, or not.

It’s left up to the whimsy of the city’s politicians.

And so, Industrial Road gets a break. And, come to think of it, Main Street was recently paved. There was no local improvement charge levied.

Black Street residents won’t get a similar break.

Why?

Well, that’s not entirely clear.

The calculus, such as it is, comes down to a value judgement – will abutting landowners benefit more than the whole municipality, or vice versa?

In 2008, the improvements would have benefitted Industrial Road landowners more than the city at large.

But, three years later, apparently that situation has changed.

Traffic flow has increased. But officials volunteered no supporting documents and there is no identifiable development in the area that might account for increased traffic.

The new Whistle Bend subdivision is expected to change traffic flow, of course, but the subdivision is still a couple of years from completion and it is less than clear what routes new commuters might favour.

They might use Industrial Road more. And, traffic on Fourth Avenue might get so heavy that people start cutting up Black Street to get to Sixth. Who’s to say?

What is clear, is the application of local improvement charges is far too arbitrary.

And it would be hard to fault citizens who cry foul when hit with a $10,000 bill that others were exempted from paying.

Officials have pledged to refine the local improvement charge policy by the end of the year.

That’s a good start.

And, until the new clearer policy is in place, it should suspend the imposition of new local improvement charges.

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