City’s public budget session sparsely attended

If online comments were a measuring stick for how much Yukoners cared about a topic, you would have expected the latest Whitehorse City Council meeting to feature at least a few angry locals.

If online comments were a measuring stick for how much Yukoners cared about a topic, you would have expected the latest Whitehorse City Council meeting to feature at least a few angry locals.

Monday night’s meeting included a public input hearing on the city’s 2017 capital budget, which is slated to spend $39 million on a new operations building.

While internet commenters have been quick to make a fuss about spending that kind of money on a new building, no one showed up in person Monday to complain.

Council only heard from three delegates, a former city councillor who spoke in favour of the new operations building and two representatives from the Downtown Residents’ Association who barely mentioned the new building at all.

Former councillor Mike Gladish said he thinks plans for the new operations building should go ahead.

Gladish was on council in 2014 when preliminary plans to build the new building were first approved. He decided not to run for re-election in 2015.

“The new operations building should be built now so that we don’t continue to saddle future councils and administrations with the inevitable need to replace outdated infrastructure,” he said.

“It’s not being built to glorify the current administration or city council. They’ve come to the understanding, through many discussions, that the time is right.”

The bulk of the $45 million being spent to build the new operations building is part of the 2017 capital budget. The city will have to borrow about $18.8 million from the bank in order to get it built, according to a financial report presented earlier this month.

“Yes, the city is borrowing money to finance the building,” Gladish said.

“It has been shown by very competent accounting people that this loan can be paid back without raising property taxes.”

Gladish said borrowing money now, and paying it back over time, makes more sense to him than spending money to repair the current municipal services building and then having to replace it down the road.

The rest of the short public hearing was taken up by representatives of the Downtown Residents’ Association.

The only time Nathan Millar and Jeanine O’Connell mentioned the new operations building was to ask if any decisions had been made regarding what would happen to the old municipal services building on Fourth Avenue that is going to be replaced.

Coun. Rob Fendrick asked whether the association had any ideas of what it would like to see done with the land. Millar said that hasn’t been discussed with the association’s membership.

Mostly the pair talked about other items in the budget related to downtown.

They said plans to reconstruct part of Sixth Avenue in 2017, subject to external funding, are important for safety reasons.

They said work on Wheeler Street will also be important and wondered why work on Alexander Street is only scheduled to happen between Fourth and Sixth Avenues.

Millar and O’Connell also wondered aloud about what happened to plans to reconstruct the playground at the corner of Sixth Avenue and Jeckell Street.

In 2014 the city gathered public comments on plans for a new playground. About 100 people attended a barbecue to comment on two draft proposals, O’Connell said.

“The community had been engaged, were very interested in the project, and we’re here to stimulate the follow-up to that,” Millar said.

Mayor Dan Curtis said city staff would get back to the association with answers.

City council will vote whether to approve the capital budget on Dec. 12. Public input on the budget can also be sent via email to budgetinput@whitehorse.ca. City staff will be putting together a report on all the public input for next Monday’s council meeting.

Contact Ashley Joannou at ashleyj@yukon-news.com

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