Budget raises taxes and fees, diminishes service

In 2009 it will cost $152,602 a day to run the city of Whitehorse, an increase of $17,637 per day over 2008: the equivalent of a fully loaded 2009 Toyota Corolla every day for a year. Paying for this increase means higher

In 2009 it will cost $152,602 a day to run the city of Whitehorse, an increase of $17,637 per day over 2008: the equivalent of a fully loaded 2009 Toyota Corolla every day for a year.

Paying for this increase means higher property taxes, but not too high, say city representatives.

Tax bills will increase by four per cent, an increase that was “committed to” at “budget time last year,” said Mayor Bev Buckway.

The increase amounts to an average of $97 extra residential tax dollars annually per person—“$1.86 a week,” notes the city.

However, taxes are not the only factor of “a budget that balances tax increases with spending reductions and our user-pays philosophy.”

In the city’s biennial citizen survey—released last June—citizens were asked what the city should do in the event that they “could no longer provide a level of service.”

Ten per cent of residents called for an increase in property taxes, 11 per cent called for budget cuts and 23 per cent called for higher bylaw and user fees.

Fifty-six per cent called for a combination of the three.

The equivalent of two full-time employees will be laid off from the Canada Games Centre. Bylaw services and Parks and Recreation will each lose an employee making $80,000 a year. The transit budget has been cut by $300,000 by eliminating Friday evening service and the No. 7 “Downtown Loop” bus route.

Bylaw services will begin charging for specific services that used to be free.

Applications for road closure now come with a fee, as does the ownership of a dog that bylaw deems dangerous.

“With these, we started to say, ‘What is this costing us administratively to produce?’” said John Taylor, manager of bylaw services.

Parkade fees have almost doubled, increasing by 44 per cent for the two Steele Street city parkades.

“In a lot of other jurisdictions, fees are way higher,” said Taylor.

Whitehorse residents pay some of the lowest property taxes in Canada, said a city release comparing Whitehorse tax rates to those in 24 selected Canadian capital and metropolitan centres.

However, results are skewed by the fact Whitehorse does not pay for a police force, and schools are not taxed at the municipal level. Population in the other selected cities was at least double Whitehorse’s.

Regarding monthly water/sewer/garbage charges, Whitehorse scored much worse.

The city’s average rate of $55.55 ranked only $14 lower than Vancouver, which holds the title for highest utility costs in the country.

Still, “it’s remarkable given our higher costs,” said Robert Fendrick, city director of administrative services.

Higher electrical costs alone added $130,000 in expenses to the water department, noted Fendrick.

Utility costs will surge upwards by 12.5 per cent in 2009—or $75 annually for each single-family dwelling.

Snow and ice control costs $2 million per year, according to the budget. High, but not bad given that “we have some of the best snow clearing around,” said Fendrick.

“General administrative” costs shot up by more than $1 million. The city was unable to explain the increase before press time.

Community organizations stand to receive $860,000 in city grants.

Council promised a four per cent tax increase in 2010 and 2011, despite “continued growth in city infrastructure requirements (that) make it increasingly difficult to balance expenditures against revenues.”

Contact Tristin Hopper at

tristinh@yukon-news.com

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