The City of Whitehorse will spend close to $53 million over the course of the year on capital projects.
In a 6-1 vote Jan. 17, Whitehorse city council passed the final two readings of the bylaw for the budget and provisional capital spending plans to 2025, with Coun. Ted Laking being the lone member to vote against the spending plan.
After bringing forward a number of questions about the document, ranging from accounting to dealing with algae in the Whistle Bend pond, Laking explained that while there are parts of the budget he agrees with, he could not vote in favour of it due to concerns over the cost of building and renovating city hall.
“I think there’s a lot of good in this budget,” he said. “Unfortunately, I have to vote against (it).”
He said he’s heard from a lot of Whitehorse residents concerned about “out of whack spending” by the city and argued there’s still a lot of work to do to get costs under control.
While Laking had planned to bring forward a motion on Jan. 17 that would halt the plans to demolish the older portion of city hall and the former fire hall on Second Avenue to build a new structure that would also include a new transit hub in addition to city hall, he opted not to bring it forward at the meeting. He explained that after speaking with his colleagues they had agreed to discuss the matter at the next standing committee meeting on Jan. 24.
Laking has pointed out estimates for the project have risen from $9.7 million when it was initially proposed in 2014 to the current $26.2 million. The plans have also changed over time with the transit hub, demolition of the oldest portion of city hall (rather than renovation) for structural reasons and more being added to the plans over the years.
Along with taking issue over the increasing costs of the project, Laking argued the election cycle schedule also makes it diffiuclt for new council members to provide full input into the budget process.
Elections are held every three years in October with council members sworn-in to office in late October or early November. This council was sworn-in Nov. 1 with city administration already working on the budget plans for the coming years.
Laking said given the circumstances, he feels he did not have a full opportunity to provide input on the spending plan.
Others, meanwhile, voiced support for the budget, highlighting projects of interest and noting the funding coming in from other levels of government for planned work.
Coun. Kirk Cameron pointed to a number of initiatives that will support active transportation in the city, adding there will be more work to do on it into the future.
Mayor Laura Cabott acknowledged “this is a big, big budget”, noting very few cities have the opportunities Whitehorse does in getting support from other levels of government to fund projects. Without that support, she said, Whitehorse would not be able to keep up with the demands that it does.
She went on to say that there is very little work that’s new. Rather, the city is working on many projects for infrastructure already in place . Pointing to the Mt. McIntyre Recreation Centre, she highlighted a planned pedway, consolidation of out buildings on the site and a retrofit to make it energy efficient.
“We’re investing in a building that’s used by many, many people,” she said, going on to also highlight work planned for Hillcrest as another example of the city making much-needed upgrades to existing infrastructure.
Where there are plans for capital spending for new projects are in Whistle Bend, the city’s fastest growing neighbourhood, as Cabott described.
Among the plans for the neighbourhood, the city will work to deal with the algae in the pond and begin work to build a new town square.
“The citizens are ready for that,” she said of the town square, adding it will make living in Whistle Bend more convenient and could mean residents having to take fewer trips to other parts of town for shopping and the like.
Cabott also acknowledged the input that came to the city through the budget process, thanking those who made submissions and stating she’s looking forward to work beginning on many of the initiatives planned.
“I really look forward to shovels in the ground,” she said.
Contact Stephanie Waddell at firstname.lastname@example.org