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Labour concerned with spend happy budget

This year’s city budget is giving Yukon Federation of Labour president Alex Furlong a headache.“We’re not opposed to tax…

This year’s city budget is giving Yukon Federation of Labour president Alex Furlong a headache.

“We’re not opposed to tax increases for legitimate operation and management expenses and increased costs,” he said.

“But when you look at the number of capital projects that the city wants to do, you’ve got to question if that burden should have to fall on the taxpayer.”

The budget, announced by mayor Bev Buckway on Monday night, included a 7.5 per cent increase in property taxes.

An additional four per cent increase is expected in both 2009 and 2010.

The tax increase is expected to raise an additional $4 million for the city, to help pay for its $50-million operating budget.

Over the next four years, $100 million of this money will go toward capital projects.

“I’m not saying for one moment that we shouldn’t do those capital projects,” said Furlong.

“But if you look at the period of amortization — of how much we’re paying in what time frame — obviously we can’t afford it.”

The city should spread the cost out over a longer period, he said.

“They have to pick and choose their investments.”

“Council did pick and choose, through the form of the integrated community sustainability plan, which the community participated in,” said Buckway.

“The list that we ended up with was minor compared to what the big wish list was.”

In all, there were 60 items on the list.

Trying to do them all would have cost the city $170 million.

“I would say that we definitely prioritized,” said Buckway.

Some projects, such as Shipyards Park, are in their final stages and are just being finished off.

“Council are always in a tough position and I don’t envy their position one bit,” said Furlong.

“But then they talk about labour costs contributing significantly to their budget shortfall.

“Well, you know what, as a council they made that decision to sign collective agreements with their staff.

“Quite frankly, I’m tired of labour being blamed for some of their woes.”

The city will be getting financial help on some of these capital projects.

The federal gas tax fund will provide $47.7 million.

And the operating grant from the territorial government will increase from $5 to $7 million, thanks to $400,000 increases over the next four years.

“They’re getting all this extra money, but seem to want to spend it as fast as they can get it,” said Furlong.

“We’re not saying they’re bad initiatives, but it’s quite obvious that we can’t afford it all.”

One aspect of the budget that should raise eyebrows is $16 million allotted for a new city-services building, said Furlong.

Another is the operating cost for the Canada Games Centre.

“It’s a great facility. But when I see operating costs increasing from $5.5 million to $6.2 million I have some questions,” he said.

The tax increase would be eliminated, for example, if the $4 million to improve information technology services was put on the backburner.

“We have to ask ourselves, do we need it, and if so, do we need it now?” said Furlong.

“Some of these projects may have to wait.”

Furlong agrees with Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce president Rick Karp that the tax increase is a bad idea.

However, he doesn’t agree with Karp’s suggestion that administration should be cut instead.

“The Whitehorse Chamber’s solution to everything is get rid of it,” said Furlong.

“The next recommendation from Karp will be to have the city council of a different jurisdiction run the city.”