Budget projections ain’t what they used to be

Sticking people with a 15 per cent tax increase over the next three years is a bad idea. In fact, it runs contrary to what citizens were told last…

Sticking people with a 15 per cent tax increase over the next three years is a bad idea.

In fact, it runs contrary to what citizens were told last year and it’s a bad move, says Whitehorse councillor Doug Graham.

“I guess it’s time to remind council about the tax we predicted — it was zero per cent,” he said during budget discussions this week.

The veteran councillor said tagging homeowners with 7.5 per cent this year and four per cent in the next two years is too much, too quickly.

It will burden taxpayers.

“It’s indefensible,” he said.

But Mayor Bev Buckway has a different take on the tax hike, which she presented in a December 10 budget speech.

The costs are rising for everyone and the city is not an exception, she said.

Citizens demand service, and the cost of providing it is rising, not dropping.

“Council is still reviewing its options,” she said as she read from a public hearing report detailing homeowners’ budget concerns and the city’s response to them.

“We’ve been receiving a lot of public feedback since we introduced the budget on December 10,” she said.

The concerns, voiced in council chambers and via e-mail, varied according to the city’s report.

Many wanted to see the city cut costs and tighten its belt.

Citizens are concerned about the tax hike and some feel the city should pare down its spending, cut non-essential services and consider layoffs.

Others felt the Canada Winter Games had put the city in the hole and the multiplex is draining city coffers.

One submission recommended “reining the unions in.”

There were those who felt the city should carve off the Stan McCowan site without developing it.

And, on the other side, some people actually wanted the city to increase spending.

One person called for a tax break for country residential homeowners because they weren’t getting the same services.

Others called for transit service improvements, $30,000 in annual funding for the Great Northern Ski Society, more sidewalks in Riverdale and citywide garbage carts.

And, at least one concern leveled at council was pretty ambiguous.

“(The) booster station on Two Mile Hill doesn’t need to look as nice as it does,” it read.

The city answered each concern in turn, and their responses varied, according to the report.

The city prioritizes its spending in line with public input and decisions are made to fit long-term plans.

The city will consider expanding transit service depending on how many people use the downtown loop.

The Canada Games Centre costs money, but budget increases have to be balanced with social gains in residents’ health and well-being.

As for taxes, the city is working on options in light of ballooning property assessments.

However, city taxes are still lower than they are in other jurisdictions, states the report.

Country residential homeowners should not get a tax break because, other than transit, they’re being billed for services they’re receiving, just like everyone else.

The city is planning to expand the garbage-cart program piloted in Porter Creek.

Sidewalk construction decisions are made on a priority basis, it said.

New staff hireing requires approval from senior management. The redevelopment of the Stan McCowan area is going ahead, and the city’s growth necessitates more money in the bank.

The city should retain plans to have an emergency dispatch service because, without it, fire crews have to leave one firefighter behind to answer phones, said councillor Jan Stick.

“To leave a trained firefighter behind just doesn’t seem like a good use of resources,” she said.

“I think it should be a full crew out.”

Fare hikes are necessary on the city transit system, said councillor Dave Stockdale.

“It’s fairly obvious to everyone in the country that the cost of running any kind of vehicle is going up.”

And those in line for city funding shouldn’t take anything for granted, said councillor Dave Austin.

“I’d like to be sure that people aren’t expecting it,” he said.

Don’t nickel-and-dime the city, said its youngest councillor, Jeanine Myhre.

“The hard part of this decision is, at what point do we cut so many services that Whitehorse becomes a boring place to live?”

Council is scheduled to introduce changes to the budget, if any, on Monday.