The City of Whitehorse needs to decide how to spend a roughly $65-million budget, and to get a better idea where to spend and where to cut, it asked the public for input.
About 30 people showed for a public budget consultation on Thursday night at the Westmark Hotel to give their ideas about how the city should spend taxpayers’ dollars.
The city’s director of corporate services, Robert Fendrick, went through the basics of the budgeting process, explaining that the city’s largest cost increase this year is in salaries and regulatory changes.
“We don’t run on cigarettes and bananas,” he said, explaining that increases in the consumer price index and inflation are where the public feels the pinch, but the city gets hit with things like the increasing cost of water-quality testing.
“We do have some tough decisions ahead of us,” he said.
The city plans to table the budget in two parts, one for capital and one for operations and maintenance.
“They do inform each other. If you buy a new truck, there will be a cost to operate it,” Fendrick said.
The city gets about half of its budget from taxes. The average property tax payment last year was $1,651. This year, the city is considering a tax increase on par with inflation, which is about 1.5 per cent.
“If you live in a mansion, you’ll obviously pay more than that. If you live in a small apartment, you’ll pay less,” Fendrick said.
After Fendrick’s presentation, the public was invited to give their thoughts on where the city should cut spending or look for increased revenue.
One idea was to start metering water usage, and charging accordingly. Right now homeowners pay a flat rate no matter how much water they use. If water were metered, it was suggested, that could allow the city to make money on high users and give conservative users a break.
That’s one idea that’s already being considered, Fendrick said. The city hopes to do a study on water metering, but that project isn’t currently being funded.
The other major concern voiced by many at the meeting was the impact that raising taxes will have on the poor and the elderly.
“At the end of the day, the average household is paying double in taxes what they were 10 years ago,” said Bill Barnie.
“Now, most households can handle that, and most households benefit from the increased services from the city.
“My concern is for people on fixed incomes, in particular seniors who are trying to stay in their own homes. The seniors homeowner grant hasn’t moved one cent. It’s still $50. Will the city consider reviewing that so that people on fixed incomes can stay in their homes?” Barnie asked.
Fendrick said the city will resurrect a little-used program that allows seniors to offset their taxes against the value of their house if they have mortgages.
Phillip Fitzgerald, the chair of the Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce, said that along with increasing revenue, the city should be looking at cutting spending.
“From a business perspective, we are concerned about costs. The amount of money that the city has paid on salaries and wages in the last five years has gone up 35 per cent or $7 million.
“The amount spent on goods and services went from $10.5 to $20 million. What we’re concerned about is not next year, but five years from now, 10 years from now. When do we stop?” he asked.
Fitzgerald asked that when the city tables its budgets, they present both capital and operations and maintenance together.
“We’re talking about one budget. Having it in two different places and two different times makes it very difficult to give feedback.”
Other speakers took issue with the amount of money spent on parks and recreation, especially the reduced rates that city employees pay to use the Canada Games Centre.
“Maybe you should start pulling more of your own weight,” said one woman.
Fitzgerald made the suggestion that the city could sell properties like the games centre, then lease them back from private companies to cut costs.
“Why is the city running the CGC? That could be private,” he said.
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