A look at city council happenings for the week of Jan. 10, 2022.
Halting the new city hall project
Coun. Ted Laking is calling on the city to pause its plans to build a new city hall and services building.
At Whitehorse city council’s Jan. 10 meeting, Laking gave a notice of motion he will be bringing forward Jan. 17 calling for the plans to be halted so city administration can look at other options.
Among those options, Laking suggested reducing the scope of the project, considering alternative locations for staff, cancelling the project altogether, and containing costs to prevent future increases.
The project will see part of the current city hall and former firehall on the site demolished to make way for the new building that will house a number of city staff as well as see the building of a new transit hub. A portion of the current city hall building that was constructed in 1987 will also see significant renovations.
In giving notice of his proposed motion, Laking highlighted the “ballooning” costs of the project, pointing out the original concept in 2014 was expected to cost $9.7 million. It rose to $18.9 million in 2019, then to $20.8 million in 2020, then to more than $24 million in the first half of 2021, with another increase in December that brings the project now to an estimated $26.2 million.
The motion will come forward at council’s next meeting where it will be discussed further.
Council considers budget input
Whitehorse city council could soon move forward with the final two readings of the city’s proposed 2022 capital budget.
Brittany Dixon, the city’s manager of financial services, brought forward a public input report on the proposed $53 million spending plan for the year with a recommendation that second and third reading move forward.
In the report, she highlighted the input that came through the formal public input process, including 10 submissions received by email and six delegate presentations made. Dixon said some of the emailed submissions were copies of delegate presentations.
Noting the issues brought forward, Dixon said 10 submissions called for greater development of an active transportation network such as cycling routes and sidewalks.
To that end, she noted there are a number of initiatives outlined in the city’s five year plan such as a new multiuse trail connecting Two Mile Hill with the Riverfront Trail via Chilkoot Way, sidewalks to be installed as part of the infrastructure improvements planned for downtown, school zone improvements with active transportation that aims to provide safer routes to schools, and more.
“While the city endeavors to complete all of the planned projects as early as possible to meet the demands of all citizens, departments must balance competing priorities with internal capacity and contractor availability,” she said.
Other submissions highlighted the plans for city buildings, with two submissions supporting the plans for a new city hall, another questioning the location (to be built at the site of the current building on Second Avenue), and another calling for the demolition of the former Municipal Services Building on Fourth Avenue to make way for housing.
Speaking to the plans for city hall, Dixon said the city is repurposing as much of the existing building as it can and while staff will have to move while construction is underway, disruptions to public services will be minimized.
Meanwhile, officials are looking at the risks that could come with demolishing the former Municipal Services Building before a decision is made.
There were also submissions calling for funding to build a skating rink in Phase 6 of Whistle Bend, a review of the snow and ice policy and amendments to the bicycle bylaw that would prohibit driving and parking in lanes outside of just the downtown core.
On those submissions, Dixon said a park space has been identified and the city is advocating with the territory (as the developer of Whistle Bend) to put in the rink during construction of the neighbourhood, and a review of the snow and ice control policy will be underway this year, which could also lead to other bylaw or policy changes.
A number of other suggestions that came forward – from a new sign at the entrance of Chadburn Lake Road to washroom availability at the Mt. McIntyre Recreation Centre and more – are to be reviewed by various city departments.
Council will vote whether to move forward with the final capital budget bylaw readings Jan. 17.
Snow removal concerns continue
City of Whitehorse crews are continuing to deal with the heavy snowfall that hit the city last week, plowing streets and removing snow from priority roads.
At Whitehorse city council’s Jan. 10 meeting, councillors Dan Boyd and Ted Laking said they have heard concerns from a number of residents wondering when their roads will be cleared.
While thanking city crews for their work in dealing with record-level snowfall, Laking said he wanted an understanding of how the city makes decisions on snow removal.
Tracy Allen, the city’s director of operations, pointed to the city’s snow and ice control policy which prioritizes snow clearing and sanding.
Priority 1 roads are completed first and include freeways, major arterial routes, major emergency routes, major bus routes and roadways that have steep grades.
The second priority goes to the remaining arterial, emergency and bus routes, major industrial roads, school zones and roadways in the central business district downtown.
The remaining roads in the city are Priority 3 with city-owned parking lots and lanes classified as the fourth priority. Full maps detailing which roads fall under each priority are available on the city’s website.
Allen noted the work of city crews, who have been putting in extra shifts, to clear the roads, but said the challenge has been it seems as soon as the crews are catching up to getting Priority 2 roads done, it snows again and crews have to go back to clearing the top priority roads making it that much more challenging to get to lower priority roads.
The recent cold snap also presented challenges in getting the work done, as it was too cold to operate some city equipment safely.
Along with city crews, Allen said private contractors have also been hired to assist with the massive snow removal.
Under questioning from city council members and, as the city has done in previous statements, Allen also emphasized the importance of keeping vehicles off city streets that are scheduled to be cleared (noting signs will be put in place to let residents when their roads are being cleared).
She said the planned street clearings are updated weekly on the city’s website and officials are looking at more ways to address backlog. Allen also acknowledged that while city crews have been working extra shifts, there have been some impacts due to COVID-19 and isolation requirements.
Contact Stephanie Waddell at firstname.lastname@example.org