City fumbles on Black Street

Whitehorse admits guilt for the latest screwup in the Black Street saga. A new public hearing for the downtown improvement project is scheduled for December 13, after the city failed to send letters notifying property owners of the last one.

Whitehorse admits guilt for the latest screwup in the Black Street saga.

A new public hearing for the downtown improvement project is scheduled for December 13, after the city failed to send letters notifying property owners of the last one.

“For sure we erred there,” said city manager Dennis Shewfelt. “We made a mistake on that one. We just didn’t get the letters out. We said we would and we didn’t.”

Letters containing ballots were sent out after the planning committee met with property owners in October.

Those letters said residents would receive another letter notifying them when the public hearing would be held.

The letters were ready to go, they just never got sent, said Shewfelt, listing a number of reasons why the clerical error could have occurred.

There was a change in staff and it slipped between the cracks, he said, noting it’s not a routine task for the department, which only issues such notices once a year, or so.

They have now put a checklist in place, he adds.

“If we receive even one vote against the project, we have to hold a public hearing,” said city spokesman Matthew Grant. “We advertised it in the paper, but people felt they weren’t informed.”

The city’s fumble invalidates the November 8 hearing, said Shewfelt.

“December 13 will be the one with proper notification.”

This will mark the fifth time city officials will meet the Black Street public.

While Whitehorse has admitted to not giving enough notice for the public hearing, it’s the lack of detail they provide that has Black Street resident Nathan Millar really upset.

“Although it is embarrassing and frustrating, they do make amends when they make a mistake, which is good,” said Millar.

However, the city hasn’t provided sound reasons why residents must pay for developments, he said.

Council deems the project will benefit a specific area – Black Street – more than the city at large, he said. As a result, it has been labelled a local improvement charge project.

There is a genuine need for new underground water pipes, which will benefit area residents directly, said Millar.

But the proposed sidewalks and landscaping are esthetics for the city’s enjoyment that most Black Street residents can live without – especially if they have to foot the bill, he said.

“It doesn’t make sense for it to be charged outside of general taxation,” he said. “Especially if it’s a $10,000 purchase for something we don’t even know what it’s going to look like.”

He is being charged $7,500 for the project over the next 10 years. An interest rate of about 6.5 per cent brings the total of $11,000, he said.

And then there’s the dubious voting system used for the project, he said.

According to territorial legislation, the project can proceed unless a majority objects to the plan.

So, in this particular case, any votes not cast are counted in favour of the plan.

“You have to say you don’t want something,” said Shewfelt. So only the “no” votes count when it comes to local improvement projects.

That has wanna-be territorial MLAs in Whitehorse Centre sounding off on the issue.

“It’s pretty obvious it could have been done better,” said Yukon Party candidate Mike Nixon. “If elected, it is something I will go to work on right away.”

“I can walk right into the office of the Minister of Community Services and talk about dealing with the issue and I think it will be resolved quicker that way.”

The Yukon Party could have stepped in at any time on behalf of Black Street residents, said candidate and NDP leader Liz Hanson.

“In fact, the Yukon Party government has refused to resolve any of the issues related to the municipal act, especially those that leave citizens feeling they are left without a voice,” she said, noting that she has been speaking up about the lack of public engagement within municipalities for more than two years.

While the New Democratic Party put the act in place in 1998, the interpretation of it and changes it has incurred – that worsen public participation – are on the shoulders of the Yukon Party, she said.

The current territory-wide review of municipalities is all about financing, she said.

Both Nixon and Hanson say the legislation should be opened up for review.

Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at

roxannes@yukon-news.com

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