A look at issues discussed by Whitehorse city council at its April 6 meeting.
COVID-19 discussion continues at Whitehorse city council
The COVID-19 pandemic continued to dominate Whitehorse city council discussions at its April 6 meeting.
The continued closure of local businesses and loss of jobs saw Coun. Samson Hartland continue his line of questioning from a week earlier when he asked where things are at in the discussion with the Yukon government about deferring property tax payments beyond the first business day after July 1.
He suggested possibilities could include deferment to September or even delaying it beyond 2020.
While property taxes are paid to municipalities (or the Yukon government for property owners that live outside a municipality), the legislation around it — including payment dates, penalties for late payments and so on — falls under the territory’s Tax Act and therefore any changes are under the jurisdiction of the Yukon government.
Hartland pointed to an email to the city from Community Services Minister John Streicker within the last week confirming the matter is being looked at. The councillor questioned whether there’s been any further discussion about it between the territory and city officials.
City manager Linda Rapp confirmed conference calls between the Yukon government and Yukon municipalities are happening this week. What comes out of those discussions remains to be seen and it may be that the city has to send out tax notices before any changes are made; something could be included with the notices stating the issue is being looked at and there may be changes coming. Rapp said it is a situation that is changing and may take some time on the Yukon government’s end to deal with.
Hartland emphasized the impact this could have on rate payers, describing the potential for it to be “the final nail” for some businesses. In the short-term, he suggested, no one should be penalized. He questioned whether there’s anything city council could do to move the matter forward.
While council is free at any time to contact the minister on it, Rapp said based on the conversations she’s had officials are “diligently looking at this” as they deal with a number of other matters related to the pandemic. Hartland continued to emphasize the importance of the issue.
“People are looking for more details,” he said. “Time is of the essence.”
In an emailed statement cabinet spokesperson Sunny Patch said the territory is working with municipalities to look at options.
“Property tax payment deadline extensions are one aspect in a range of potential relief and stimulus options Yukon government is considering,” she said.
“We will continue to work closely with the City of Whitehorse, all municipalities and the Association of Yukon Communities as we consider options to support Yukoners.”
Mayor Dan Curtis also emphasized the efforts underway to look at property taxes around the territory.
Coun. Steve Roddick, meanwhile, argued any such deferment should be targeted at residential property owners, medium and small businesses and the like rather than major corporations.
Meanwhile, Coun. Laura Cabott questioned further measures around COVID-19 that might be taken in the near future by the city that could impact services, wondering if there is any sort of list with those details.
Rapp said that as “things continue to change rapidly”, the city has started planning around internal operations and the possibility of operating with staff resources at 75, 50 and 25 per cent. If service levels have to change at some point it could include hours or days of the weeks that services are offered.
Already, there have been changes in the number of people permitted on city buses, closures of recreation facilities and front desk services as well as changes in how city council meetings are run.
While cities and towns across the country and around the world are taking a variety of actions depending on their circumstances, city officials in Whitehorse are following the lead of the Yukon government as it is a public helath emergency declared by the territory’s chief medical officer of health.
“We’re in regular communication with YG,” Rapp said.
The questions about taxes and potential future actions in light of COVID-19 came following Mayor Dan Curtis’ comments at the beginning of the meeting.
Curtis was out of his two-week self-isolation after travelling to B.C. and was the only council member physically present at the meeting to chair it. As per the new measures at council, all council members with the exception of the meeting chair attend the weekly sessions via conference call.
He commented he’s “ecstatic to be back” and said he’s gotten many calls about the exceptional people in the community who are helping out. He went on to thank those continuing to deliver services and goods including bus drivers, those who work in health care, truck drivers, those staffing shops that need to remain open, food delivery workers and more. He urged those who are able to to “stay home if you can” and also suggested supporting local businesses wherever possible.
Lots could be expanded in Mount Sima
The City of Whitehorse is considering rezoning a 1.02-hectare area in the Mount Sima subdivision to allow for the eventual expansion of properties in front of the area.
The proposal came forward at council’s April 6 meeting with planning manager Melodie Simard explaining an earlier version of it was proposed in 2017. At that time, it had been 2.27 ha suggested for rezoning so lots along Mt. Sima road could expand at the rear. Given concerns over the potential impact that could have on a nearby trail, it was sent back to city staff for further work.
With interest in more industrial land again coming forward, staff have brought the matter back but with a smaller area so it will not be close to the trail. Coun. Dan Boyd said he appreciates the work done to protect the trail.
The proposal would see the 1.02-ha area rezoned from its greenbelt zone to a service industrial zone.
Council will vote on first reading April 14. If that’s approved a public hearing will be held May 11 with a report on the hearing presented at council’s June 1 meeting. If all that goes ahead, council would vote on the final two readings June 15.
Council to vote on rezoning for skateboard park
As plans move forward for a rebuilt skatboard park on Lewes Boulevard, Whitehorse city council members are contemplating the final two readings of a rezoning bylaw for the site.
Moving to a public service zone will allow the city to aquire the property from the Yukon government after the territory rebuilds the site. The city will then take on the responsibility for the park.
At council’s April 6 meeting, Pat Ross, the city’s manager of land and building services, brought forward a public hearing report.
The public hearing was held March 30 with the city receiving two written submissions on the poroposal.
“Both written submissions expressed support for the aquisition process, noting that the facility would benefit from clearer ownership and maintenance responsibility, and that access to this outdoor recreation facility is a benefit to city residents,” he said.
Councillors Samson Hartland and Jan Stick both noted they’re pleased to see this moving ahead.
The final two readings of the bylaw will come forward April 14.
Building names debated
At least one Whitehorse city councillor wants to see more work done on coming up with potential names for new city buildings.
At council’s April 6 meeting, Pat Ross, the city’s manager of land and building services, brought forward a recommendation the city’s new firehall being built downtown be named Whitehorse Fire Hall #1 (simply transferring the name of the current firehall to the new one), and the new operations building be named the Whitehorse Operations Building.
Coun. Laura Cabott took issue with the names, arguing the city has a rich history that could be better reflected in its building names as other buildings in town are (ie: MacBride Museum, the Tutshi Building).
“I think this is an opportunity to do a little more,” she said, expressing disappointment in the proposals. “I’d be open to having a rethink of this.”
Coun. Dan Boyd also highlighted his concerns in naming the downtown firehall as Fire Hall #1, noting it implies there’s a Firehall #2. There isn’t; the other firehall is part of the city’s Public Service Building on Two Mile Hill and as it serves as the main fire hall for the city, Boyd also noted there could be confusion in which fire hall is #1. While Ross noted the city could look at other possibilities, staff would need more specific direction from council on exactly what is being sought.
Council is scheduled to vote on the first two readings of the bylaw for the names at its April 14 meeting.