Citizens cry foul over tax increases

While most residents crowded into Whitehorse's city hall chambers on Monday night to support city funding for Mt.

While most residents crowded into Whitehorse’s city hall chambers on Monday night to support city funding for Mt. Sima, a few came with something to say about the scheduled topic of the public hearing: the city’s operations budget.

And their message was clear: Whitehorse residents don’t want to pay more municipal taxes.

The proposed $65 million operations budget, announced two weeks ago, includes a 3.83 per cent tax increase for this year. That translates into an average $65 increase for property owners and $300 for businesses. And taxes would continue to rise, with a proposed four per cent hike next year, and a three per cent increase in 2015.

The budget passed first reading two weeks ago. The earliest it can be approved is March 25.

“You’re nickel-and-diming us to death over here, but you’re throwing millions out the door for no apparent reason,” said Scott Tyrner, referencing more than $3 million given to Mt. Sima over the past few years.

His presentation came at the end of around three hours of public hearings where many residents voiced support how Mt. Sima generates tourism and business, and keeps youth away from drugs and alcohol.

“I grew up here. I didn’t have Sima. I think I’m OK,” said Tyrner. He doesn’t think the city should cut services, he said. But he would like to have his street plowed more than twice a year, and for garbage pickup to increase, he said.

He wasn’t the only one to be critical.

These tax hikes are “very disturbing,” said Bill Barnie, especially since council candidates spent much of last fall’s election discussing the need for affordable housing.

“It’s all about affordable housing when you’re trying to get those seats, but once you get them, you raise the taxes,” he told council.

“We should be living within our means, and we’re not.”

The mayor shouldn’t be in France when a public hearing for a budget is scheduled, he said. Instead, the city should cut off all funding for councillor travel on years when it raises taxes, he said.

The Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce wants the city to promise to not raise taxes by more than the lesser of two per cent or the rate of inflation for the next four years, said chair Philip Fitzgerald. By the end of this budget cycle, taxes will have increased by $12 million since 2006, he said.

This increase has not been matched by population growth, or an increase in city services.

The chamber wants the city to cut the budget by $556,000, he said. But he didn’t say which services should be reduced. The chamber is willing to discuss with council new ways the city could generate revenue, as long as other parties are included in the discussion, he said.

The capital and operating budgets should be presented together and earlier in the year, said Fitzgerald. This budget may not be passed until the end of this month, one-quarter of the way through the year. Budget documents should also include the city’s financial statements from the previous year, he said.

But the city did find a lone supporter for tax increases: former mayor Bev Buckway.

Citizens love to complain about taxes, she told council in her return to chambers. But there is a “silent majority” who aren’t opposed to tax increases and understand the city only has a small budget to provide a lot of services, she said.

Buckway said that if she couldn’t afford the extra 14 cents a day the tax increase would cost, her finances would be so out of order the city couldn’t help her anyways.

This budget includes a proposal to have buses run every weekday evening, starting in the fall. Coun. Dave Stockdale asked Buckway if she thought the city should consider running night buses for a year on a probationary basis, and then judge how well the service performs.

“Good try, Coun. Stockdale, but you’re in those chairs making those decisions,” Buckway said as the gallery laughed.

She also refused to answer Stockdale’s question about whether or not she would approve funding for Mt. Sima.

Coun. Kirk Cameron was absent from Monday’s meeting.

Contact Meagan Gillmore at

mgillmore@yukon-news.com

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