As the City of Whitehorse projects an operating surplus to the end of the year and gets set to reduce the capital budget for the year, Mayor Laura Cabott says the city will likely be focusing its attention on basic, essential services as it plans the 2023 operating budget.
In an interview following Whitehorse city council’s Nov. 21 meeting where the third quarter variance reports on the 2022 capital and operating budgets came forward, Cabott said work is underway to develop the 2023 operating budget and provisional spending plan to 2025.
The variance reports are done every three months, detailing how the city’s budget plan compares with actual spending and revenues.
The third quarter reports recommend council approve amendments to reduce the capital budget by $163,809 as a number of projects are anticipated to be rebudgeted to 2023 due to delays that have come from staff vacancies, procurement delays and limited availability of consultants and contractors. Council will vote on whether to go ahead with the $163,809 reduction at its Nov. 28 meeting.
On the operating side is an anticipated $2.2 million surplus that comes from a variety of factors including the wages and benefits being lower than expected due to positions not being filled. Training is also costing less than anticipated due to an increase in virtual conference and web-based training.
The city is; however, seeing less revenues than anticipated at the Canada Games Centre and through parking meters, which have not yet returned to pre-pandemic user levels. Transit revenues are also down, in part due to the city offering free transit when Robert Service Way was closed due to landslides. Expenses like snow clearing have increased as have costs for materials, oil and gas and others.
Cabott said officials will spend time through December and January considering the potential operating budget for next year, which will look at a number of factors, including the increasing costs being felt in many areas and being seen across the country.
It’s too early to say cost hikes could result in a higher than anticipated property tax increase. The provisional budget for 2023 had anticipated a 2.45 per cent increase for 2023. Cabott said there’s a desire to keep any tax increases as low as possible.
“No government wants to increase taxes, and we definitely wouldn’t be increasing taxes unless we needed to,” she said. “I think everybody’s sharpening their pencils. And I think the focus is going to be more on continuing to provide essential services, the basic services, the types of city services that citizens require, that citizens expect.”
It might mean the city isn’t able to do some things it would have otherwise chosen to due to rising costs and other factors, she said.
“All of those sorts of things will add up, but I would say there’s no desire going into this budget discussion to be raising taxes unreasonably,” she said.
Efforts also continue to recruit and retain staff, an issue that has also impacted what the city has been able to do in recent years, though the staff vacancies have also contributed to the surplus the city is seeing. Cabott said COVID-19 made the situation more difficult.
She noted though within the last year, the city has taken more proactive steps to recruiting and retaining staff, including adding to the pension provisions in the collective agreement the city has with its workers.
“We really have put a lot of focus in recruiting so I am hoping that next year we’ll have more staff and less surplus — surplus because we didn’t hire staff,” she said, noting the difficulty in even finding consultants for some city projects.
“So it’s a way to save money, but it’s also a way of not getting your projects done.”
Cabott said it’s also too early to tell if what the city is seeing this year is a sign of what’s to come next year.
“We haven’t rebounded in certain areas since COVID,” she said. “We just see across the country with rising inflation and the cost of materials etc. So I think, just generally, we will see an increase in expenses, but we will have seen that before and it’ll be an opportunity for us to to regroup and …. to ensure that the services that are required and expected from citizens will always be there.”
Cabott and other council members praised city staff for its work in dealing with increased costs and outlining details impacting the 2022 budget in its reports to council.
While council considers the variance reports for the 2022 budget, it will also be looking ahead to 2023 with a public input session on the proposed 2023 capital budget scheduled for Nov. 28.
Contact Stephanie Waddell at firstname.lastname@example.org