Whitehorse property tax bills could jump by more than three per cent in 2023, while city utility bills also see a hike.
Whitehorse city council unveiled its proposed $100.3-million operating budget for 2023 at its Feb. 13 meeting, highlighting the potential tax and utility bill increases.
It marks the first time a city operating budget has topped the $100-million mark.
The budget is only expected to grow in future years as the city also outlined provisional operating spending plans for 2024 at $104.4 million and in 2025 at $108.2 million.
The 2023 property tax increase of 3.37 per cent would amount to the average homeowner paying an additional $88 on their tax bill compared to a year earlier. The average bill for 2023 would be $2,699 compared to $2,611 in 2022 if the budget goes ahead as planned.
For utility bills, those on the city’s water and sewer system will see an increase of 3.36 per cent, rising from $85.85 to $88.73 each month, or from $257.55 to $266.19 for each three month period that the city bills. Fees for waste collection would rise by 6.04 per cent, increasing from $13.42 to $14.23 each month, or from $40.26 per quarter to $42.69. That means for those on both the city’s water and sewer system as well as waste collection, their quarterly utility bill would be $308.88.
The increases to property taxes and fees come as the city deals with increased costs that have been seen across the board over the past year.
“This operating budget considers the wide-ranging negative economic impacts we are seeing across the territory and the country,” Mayor Laura Cabott said in her budget speech.
“The city, like residents and businesses, is also subject to increased costs due to inflation. In December, the Consumer Price Index rose 6.3 per cent compared to last year.”
Acknowledging that no one likes a tax increase, Cabott emphasized council’s desire to keep property taxes as low as possible without having a negative impact on city services.
“We know that any change in taxes has a direct impact on residents and it is the city’s role to ensure it maximizes every tax dollar it collects and avoids spending what it doesn’t have to,” she said.
Cabott pointed out in a Feb. 14 interview the increase still remains below the rise in the CPI over the past year. The CPI is typically part of the equation the city uses when looking at the property tax rate for the coming year.
Cabott noted continued growth in Whitehorse will also help ensure the city can meet costs.
In her speech, Cabott noted the increasing cost to maintain aging infrastructure that continues to be impacted by climate change.
“As part of this proposed budget, we’ll be adding two more staff who will be responsible for the city’s water and waste infrastructure,” she said. “Doing so will improve efficiency, effectiveness and timeliness to make sure every time you flush or turn on the tap, things are working as they should be.”
Also in the plans for operations in 2023 is increased snow and ice control, including to priority trails used for active transportation, with possibilities of hiring contractors or additional staff during heavy snowfalls.
Transit operations could also see changes.
“The city has identified the addition of two new routes, which would increase current service offering of six to eight routes in total and lead directly to an approximate 35 per cent increase in transit service hours, while not requiring an increase in the number of buses,” Cabott said. “Should the project be successful, additional funding will be required to pay for new route infrastructure over the next three years. Without this change in budget, the city will not be able to improve our transit system or realize the efficiencies and benefits from this new route network.”
The budget did not contemplate the recently signed Liberal and NDP confidence agreement, which includes a clause to provide free transit in Whitehorse.
Cabott said Feb. 14 work on the budget began long before the confidence agreement was announced and, while she is looking forward to meeting with the territory’s minister of Community Services about it, those conversations have not yet occurred.
Along with changes to the conventional transit system, the city is also proposing an increase to the Handy Bus system in order to better manage peak demands. The Handy Bus system provides door-to-door service for those unable to use the conventional transit system.
The reopening of the Robert Service Campground is also outlined for the 2023 summer. The campground was last operated in 2019. It closed due to COVID-19. A new campground building has since been constructed.
“Operational budget will be required to staff the campground during the season,” Cabott said. “This campground is near and dear to many in the community and provides an easily accessible place to create new memories with friends and family against a natural backdrop.”
In her speech, Cabott highlighted the city’s relationship with the Ta’an Kwäch’än Council and the Kwanlin Dün First Nation as a priority as well as noting the importance of creating a welcoming and inclusive workforce.
The city plans to hire an equity, diversity and culture specialist that “would look for ways to foster a positive, diverse and inclusive workplace that reflects the community it serves,” she said.
After praising the city’s staff for providing “an outstanding level of service to our community”, Cabott went on to note the public now has the opportunity to tell the city their thoughts on the proposed budget.
Budget documents are available on the city’s website and a public input session will be held at council’s Feb. 27 meeting.
Written submissions can be emailed to email@example.com. Those wishing to make their presentations by phone at the meeting or address council directly at the session are asked to notify the city’s legislative services staff by noon on Feb. 27 through email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 668-8611.
A report on the input will come forward March 6 ahead of second and third reading on March 13.
Contact Stephanie Waddell at email@example.com