I live at 812 Black Street and I voted against the local-improvement
This is the third time I have made a presentation before council.
At both previous hearings, a number of points were raised by me and others.
To date, council has not responded to them.
My fear now is that Black Street residents will again give comments and again leave with no response. We will then get a report from council on the hearing that does not specifically show how our comments have been fully considered.
I fear this report will be the end of it, and council will go ahead with second and third readings without further opportunity for public input and we’ll be stuck with the bill.
Nevertheless, I am here again to remind you of the issues with this project and to ask you to re-examine it and the local-improvement charge policies/bylaws/and application.
The issues I raise are not specifically about Black Street, they are about the process. Consequently, your decision to act or not affects all citizens of Whitehorse and all should be concerned about the outcome.
Issue 1: Criteria for
The question here is one that should have been asked at the very beginning of this process. And that is: what qualifies as a local-improvement charge project? Council has apparently ruled that the Black Street project is one, but based on what criteria?
In Section 267(2), the Yukon Municipal Act defines a local improvement as any capital project the council considers to be of greater benefit to an area of the municipality than to the whole municipality.
Under this condition, all or part of the work can be paid for by a local-improvement
So does the city have a policy or, at minimum, criteria to decide whether a project is of greater benefit to an area than to the whole municipality?
Main Street was recently repaved. This wasn’t a local improvement to my knowledge. You could argue the municipality as a whole benefits from the Main Street work. You could also argue that shop owners on Main Street benefit more because it draws business to their shops.
My point is not just to compare these projects. I want to illustrate that, to my knowledge, the city does not have a policy or criteria on which to base the decision. Residents are left with no justification and no consistency when it comes to local-improvement
Issue 2: The voting process
Last meeting I was informed the voting process was not up for debate because it is determined by the municipal act. I was informed the city was just doing as it was told and had no say in the matter.
Section 269(3) of the municipal act reads: “If the majority of the benefiting property owners object to a local improvement, the council cannot proceed with the local improvement.”
The results of the most recent Black Street vote are:
No Response: 16
Total Ballots: 50
A 68 per cent response rate. This is pretty good, probably higher than most elections.
Nineteen of 34 ballots cast (56 per cent) voted No. Under every other system this result is considered a majority voting against, objecting to the project and the project would not proceed.
However, the city has chosen to interpret the act in such a manner that ballots that are not cast are counted in favour of the project.
But remember, the act does not say anything about voting, or about how uncast ballots are to be counted.
All it talks about is the principle of majority rule. And, in most other forms of voting and of democracy, a majority is taken from those who participate in the vote. Those who do not vote are not counted.
If the act intended all residents to be counted regardless of whether they voted, it would have specifically said so in explicit language Ã something like, all uncast votes will be counted, or it would have used language like ‘absolute’ majority.
But it doesn’t and so as it stands, the act is open for interpretation.
Therefore, council’s claim the city is bound by the act and is just following territorial legislation is, in my opinion, not supported. The city has no policies, guidelines, or bylaws outlining how the vote should take place Ã so why is it being done this way?
Black Street residents were told if we weren’t satisfied then we should take it up with our MLAs.
But I think deciding a voting process is completely within the purview of Whitehorse and it is up to you, as mayor and council, to address the issue.
If you want to codify the current voting system in a city bylaw or policy then do so, but don’t pass the buck and blame this issue on someone else.
If council actually wants to know whether residents are in support or oppose a local-improvement
project, then the voting system must change. Otherwise, the interpretation of the current voting system is that residents don’t have a meaningful vote Ã that we are not all equal when it comes to voting. And when you are talking about $11,000, that is not acceptable.
Issue 3: Combining
above-ground and below-ground works
This project has two distinct components. The first is replacement of the underground sewer and water.
This work, most everyone agrees, is needed and necessary.
All residents connected to sewer and water pay utilities charges each month to cover the cost of operating, maintaining, and presumably upgrading, when necessary, this infrastructure.
This component of the Black Street project is not being paid for through a local-improvement charge and, from what I hear from council, underground works aren’t normally part of local-improvement charges.
So the question is why is the underground work being voted on, and why is it even part of a local-improvement charge? (Side note: Brian Crist clearly stated this week that the underground works are not part of the local-improvement charge.)
Black Street residents should not be asked to vote on a much-needed infrastructure project the city is paying for.
The second component of the Black Street project is the above-ground works. These include changes to the roadway, installation of sidewalks, curbs, etc. This is the local improvement component of the project and this is the part that residents need to vote on: Not everyone agrees this is something that is needed or wanted.
It is inappropriate and unfair to combine these two components into a single project. By combining them, you are forcing residents to vote against needed infrastructure works that are not covered under the local-improvement policy. If we vote the project down because we don’t want the above-ground work done, then the city won’t do the below-ground work that needs to be done.
It seems our hand is being forced.
Issue 4: Paying for an
Right now, we are being asked to pay for a portion of the works, but have no say in the final product Ã the only commitment we have is that a third-party consultant will be involved to help make final decisions.
We have no concrete plan (pun intended) on which to vote.
Vague promises of future consultation just don’t merit an $11,000 investment.
To summarize, the major issues with this local-improvement charge are:
Â¥ The absence of objective criteria for determining which projects qualify.
Â¥ Questionable voting practices that do not represent the interest of the residents.
Â¥ The inappropriate inclusion of below-ground works into a local-improvement charge that should only concern above-ground works.
Â¥ And the uncertainty of specific project outcomes such that an investment on the order of thousands of dollars does not make rational economic sense.
To address these issues, mayor and council should consider:
Â¥ Defining objective criteria to be used in determining whether or not a project qualifies as an LIC.
Â¥ Updating the voting process so that only those ballots that are cast are counted in the vote.
Â¥ They should retract the current Black Street local-improvement charge and reissue another that removes reference to the below-ground works. They should not be part of a local-improvement charge vote.
Â¥ Develop specific options for the above-ground works residents can vote on so that they know what they are getting Ã we don’t want to pay for something that will be explained later.
Â¥ And redo the Black Street vote with all those changes incorporated.