Residents of Hillcrest cast the last of their votes on a much-contested proposed Hillcrest improvement project May 9.
Election results will be made available publically and to council May 12 at noon, said Mike Gau, director of development for the city.
Because votes could be cast by mail, the city is waiting for any last-minute votes to come in, said Jessica Apolloni, city communications manager. Any vote postdated for May 9 will be considered, she said, and two and a half business days is a “reasonable” time period to wait for them.
“While the vote ended yesterday, there’s a buffer period to wait in case anything else comes in on the mail,” she said.
The city refused to release preliminary vote results.
It is unknown how many ballots have yet to come in by mail, said Gau.
“We wait to have some certainty of the results so there aren’t multiple releases of information,” he said.
The proposed improvements include new water and sewer mains, upgrades to fire protection and storm drainage, installing sidewalks, repairs to roads and efficiency upgrades to water services. Eighty-eight per cent of the costs of these improvements will be paid for through taxes, said Gau, but the remaining 11 per cent — which pays, specifically, for “a portion” of surface work — is to be recouped from homeowners as a local improvement charge as mandated by bylaw.
At a public hearing on the improvements May 8, more than half a dozen residents stood before city council to speak to their concerns. Primary among them was cost, with some people saying they or their neighbours would have to sell their homes if they were expected to foot the bill.
Councillors were told at the meeting the average cost to a homeowner is estimated to be $15,000.
Gau said these charges are standard rates set by the bylaw.
Part of the reason the improvements are being done, he said, is to prevent future damage to properties which might occur if current systems in the area are not repaired. These damages would likely be more than the local improvement charges and be the full responsibility of homeowners, he said.
“It’s expensive, there’s no doubt about that,” he said. “That’s been acknowledged, but (residents) are benefiting from this.”
“There have been a number of discrepancies with this project. I understand the work and the time the city has spent … but this community (of Hillcrest) has been around a long time and not a lot of has been done (improvement-wise) in the community so I wonder where all this tax money has gone,” said Hillcrest resident Ron Woods.
“I really think city council should take a good hard long look at this before making any decisions.”
Residents spoke multiple times on the voting process, in which ballots not received are counted as being for the project. Resident Leslie Carter called this process “unfair and undemocratic.”
“Fifty per cent plus one but ‘yes’ on ballots not returned?” said Woods. “That’s crazy.”
“This project has been advanced by the community and we consider this a bonafide project,” said city engineer Wayne Tuck. “It’s not a vote for or against … they have to vote to defeat the project.”
“This is a totally democratic process.”
Gau said the voting process used in these procedures has been carried out according to the bylaw, but admits it is complicated and sometimes difficult for people to understand.
“It’s confusing. It’s the only instance where we use this system of voting,” he said.
Gau said the city has held “numerous meetings” to help people understand the process.
“It is unfair to expect citizens to understand bylaw processes,” said Carter.
City council will be formally presented with the vote results and a package summarizing the concerns of residents at the May 15 city council meeting, according the City of Whitehorse website.
If the votes are 50 per cent plus one against the improvements, the project stops there, says Gau. If the vote comes back in favour of the project, however, council can vote to proceed.
“A positive result allows council to continue, but a negative result stops it,” he said.
Council is set to make a decision to either accept or reject the project on May 27, pending a positive vote.
Contact Lori Garrison at email@example.com