The wheels are in motion to bring Sunday bus service to Whitehorse.
At Whitehorse city council’s Jan. 31 meeting, the proposed $93.4 million operating budget was unveiled and passed first reading, revealing plans for added bus service on Sundays and holidays with the exception of Christmas and New Year’s day.
Also outlined in the plans were scheduling improvements to the service.
“This new service enhancement, which also includes the Handy Bus, will follow established Saturday routes, schedules, and timings,” Mayor Laura Cabott said in her budget speech. “Sunday service will help reduce the social and economic inequalities for those who can’t afford to utilize alternative transportation, and it will help businesses ensure their staff can get to work on Sundays.”
She went on the highlight holiday service, noting the change means buses will run 363 days a year.
At the same time, looking at the plans to improve schedules, Cabott said transit users can also expect more stops to be added in higher demand areas.
“Our hope is that these enhancements will increase ridership through frequency, reliability, and spontaneous boarding,” she said. “The outcome will be fewer vehicles on our roads, less congestion, and a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.”
City spokesperson Myles Dolphin said it’s anticipated the new Sunday and holiday service will begin about two to three weeks after third reading of the budget is passed.
Increasing property taxes
As with any city operating budget, property taxes for the coming year were also outlined with Cabott noting the proposed 2.65 per cent increase will result in the average home owner paying about $67 more this year in taxes, while the average commercial property owner will pay an additional $124 in property taxes.
“Though tax increases are not usually welcome, it is a necessary action in order to cover the essential services for our growing community,” the mayor said. “The proposed amount is significantly lower than the rate of inflation and also lower than the average increase in the assessed value of properties in Whitehorse.”
While property taxes are proposed to rise, water and sewer are not. They would remain at $85.85.
A growing city
Throughout her speech, Cabott reflected on the city’s growth, pointing out the population is now at 30,000; up 2,000 from two years earlier.
“This rate of growth is expected to continue, and as the capital city, we need to be prepared for it,” she said. “More people means more demand on a variety of city services. This means roads for cars and more paths and trails for cyclists. An increased demand on our water and sewer system and, as we have seen the past two years, an increase in snow removal.
“But it’s not just an increase in population, it’s also an increase in what people are asking for as we try to reduce our carbon footprint and adapt to climate change.”
Increased resources are identified for snow clearing, the fire department and land and building services.
On snow clearing, Cabott said the city has heard the demand from residents for more snow removal and will increase that budget by $240,000 in 2022.
“We are also adding new, full-time positions to our fleet and transportation team to operate the new equipment approved through the capital budget,” she said. “This will provide us with greater capacity to manage snow and ice control on roads and pathways, as we respond to changing winter conditions in Whitehorse brought on by climate change.”
The fire department would hire three additional firefighters per year for the next four years, while land and building services would see the hiring of another development officer and permanent client services representative to help address the building boom underway in the city.
“In order to offset the enhanced service provided to the development community and as part of a larger initiative to review overall fee levels the city has taken the opportunity to realign some of the fees charged for services in the Land and Building Services area,” she said.
New hirings at the city’s summer day camps are also proposed as demand continues to rise for the annual programs.
Along with presenting the proposed 2022 operating budget, the city also outlined provisional operating budgets for 2023 at $95.4 million and 2024 at $94.5 million.
Budget documents are available on the city’s website and a public input session will be held at council’s Feb. 14 meeting. A report on the input will come forward Feb. 21 ahead of second and third reading on Feb. 28.
Contact Stephanie Waddell at firstname.lastname@example.org