The passage of the city’s budget on Monday has highlighted the futility of public consultation in Whitehorse.
About two weeks ago, politicians solicited public input to refine the city budget.
But it’s not clear whether city officials could even use the information they received.
“We had public input at the March 14th meeting,” noted Coun. Doug Graham. “But on March 24th it was too late to give administration direction – we’re basically telling the public that their comments are nice, but it’s too late.”
This wrinkle in the city’s procedures arose when Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce president Rick Karp proposed delaying Monday’s budget vote to rustle up enough cuts to stave off a four per cent tax increase.
“One report found $800,000 in efficiencies,” said Karp.
In response, Graham tabled a motion calling for a two-week delay in the vote.
“We might get a little perspective on this budget,” said Graham. “If we get one good idea out of it, it will be worth it.”
Councillors Betty Irwin and Ranj Pillai supported Graham’s plan.
“I’d like council to identify a third party come in to work with senior management to find efficiencies,” said Pillai.
Even if the savings didn’t materialize, the public would understand the budget process better, he added.
“I think there is a lack of clarity on how the budget process works.”
But the delay was nixed after city staff argued there wouldn’t be enough time to save anywhere near $800,000.
In a 4-3 split, council approved the $63.4 million budget.
Without any hard numbers, Coun. Florence Roberts was skeptical that the efficiencies could be found at all.
Karp’s presentation was offensive, she said.
“He sat there tonight and said we could save $800,000, yet he hasn’t submitted anything in writing,” said Roberts. “All he wants to do is have another meeting.”
The delay would be a complete waste of time said Coun. Dave Stockdale, referring to a city budget review in 1996 that took months to complete.
“I’ll be absolutely disgusted if we vote to delay,” he said.
However, if no significant changes could be made in a few weeks, that raises questions about the timing of the recent public consultations, said Coun. Graham.
It certainly seems that way to Cam Koss, who was one of the only people to address council during the public input meeting on the budget.
“They hold the public hearing as a token gesture to let people vent,” said Koss. “Then they go and do what they want anyway.” While very few people proposed changes to the budget, Koss said that he has faced the same dismissive attitude from council when fighting development plans in his neighbourhood of Porter Creek.
“They’re running away with things,” said Koss “In the public hearing for the infill we had over a hundred people show up and they all said we don’t want it, and the city said too bad.”
Graham’s motion to defer the vote was ultimately defeated by the same councilors that voted in favour of the budget.
With its passage, citizens of Whitehorse can expect to see property taxes rise by four per cent and an increase in the sewage and water fees of 7.2 per cent.
The budget includes new hires for building maintenance and fire dispatchers.
It also allocates hundreds of thousands of dollars over the next few years to improve and expand the transit services.
A lot of planning went into the budget, said Mayor Bev Buckway, who indicted that she would be willing to change the way the budget is drafted.
“It’s very difficult to change the process when you’re in the middle of it,” she said. “I’m always open to looking at the process.”
To keep up with the demands of a growing population the city has proposed imposing four per cent property tax hikes in 2012 and 2013 as well.
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