City stages meeting to discuss tax increases

Whitehorse residents are likely looking at a tax increase for 2014, but exactly what size may depend on their feedback at a public consultation on Thursday.

Whitehorse residents are likely looking at a tax increase for 2014, but exactly what size may depend on their feedback at a public consultation on Thursday.

Whitehorse Mayor Dan Curtis said the city is hoping to keep the increase at the rate of inflation, or about 1.5 per cent.

“It’s going to take some tightening of the belt; maybe some service reductions and some revenue generation,” Curtis said.

The city is holding a public consultation on Thursday evening from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the Westmark Hotel. It’s a chance for the city to explain how much money it has, where its increased costs are coming from, and to get feedback on how citizens want their taxes collected and spent, Curtis said.

The city is also putting together a website that allows people to tinker with the city’s numbers themselves, and see how that would affect various user fees and taxes.

“It’s not an Excel spreadsheet, but it’s a program that would give people an idea and an understanding how much of a tax reduction there would be if we took, say, $300,000 out of recreation spending or if we added $200,000 to bylaw services, or kept the fire hall as it is,” Curtis said.

But the consultation is not enough, according to the Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce.

“We had asked for about four to five weeks notice. This one was about a week. So it was difficult for people to clear their slates,” said chamber president Rick Karp.

“We applaud the city for actually doing a consultation. This is something that the Whitehorse chamber has been pushing for for quite a while now,” Karp said.

The biggest problem is that the city hasn’t released a draft budget or any year-to-date financial information, so it’s nearly impossible for business owners to provide an informed opinion, Karp said.

“When you go to the city’s website, and you look at the budget for 2014, there’s no budget there. What’s there is a questionnaire, and an explanation that we want you to come out and give feedback,” Karp said.

The city has run budget surpluses since 2008, Karp said, and that makes him doubtful that a tax increase is necessary.

“If the difference between revenue and expense turns into a negative, a loss, then of course there will be all sorts of discussion about OK, what are we going to do. That sort of would justify a tax increase, but we don’t have that and we don’t know,” he said.

“We’re saying, ‘Lets look at where you are. What was your 2013 budget, and let’s look at a year-to-date comparatively and see where you are? How can we comment on a budgetary process if we don’t have a proposed budget, if we don’t know what your year-to-date numbers look like?” Karp asked.

To Curtis, that request seems odd; he said it was Karp who suggested not releasing a draft budget in the first place.

“The Whitehorse chamber were the ones who suggested that they didn’t want a draft budget to come forward because it would look like we’ve already made conclusions as to where and how much was going to be spent,” Curtis said.

“His suggestion is quite contraire to his last comment … I’m not quite sure where he’s coming from, but we’ve certainly taken a lead from the chamber in saying that they would support a tax increase no more than the rate of inflation, which we’re striving for. To suggest that there should be zero increase, well, inflation is more than zero,” the mayor said.

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