An updated City of Whitehorse local improvement policy could be in place as early as July 14.
That’s when Whitehorse city council will vote on whether to approve changes to the policy.
The document governs local improvement charges (LICs), or the costs passed on to benefitting property owners for work such as neighbourhood road improvements.
For such work, benefitting property owners are charged for a portion of the road work (based on the zone, estimated cost and frontage space). The charges are spread over a number of years and with annual amounts added to property tax bills.
Under the city’s current local improvement policy when road surface work is planned for neighbourhood streets, a vote on a potential LIC is held and if a majority of affected property owners object to the charge, it is defeated. The city may then choose to move ahead with the project without the charge or opt not to do the work.
In a number of cases, projects have not moved forward after a majority of property owners vote against the LIC. In other cases, some projects have moved ahead.
Under the proposed policy, benefitting property owners would no longer be charged for part of the roadwork, though they could choose to upgrade services on their own property at the time work is being done to the street, funded through a loan arrangement with the city that would be spread out over a number of years.
The proposed new policy was first brought forward to council in May, with members voting to move ahead with public consultation on it.
In a July 5 report to council, director of development services Mike Gau noted a webinar was hosted and a public input period followed with 10 residents attending the webinar. The recorded video of the webinar was viewed 22 times and the project page on the city website was visited 142 times before the input period ended.
A total of 10 submissions were received, with eight of those from residents asking questions about the reconstruction process and their own property. Two submissions expressed support for the changes, with another highlighting concerns.
Those supporting the changes stated the policy provided clarity, fairness and thought the opt-in option for the work on private property was good.
A variety of concerns were raised in the submission that expressed concern.
“One resident raised concern about the fairness to past LIC payers by changing the past practice where benefiting property owners would pay for a portion of the surface works on public land and the city would pay for the work on the private property side,” Gau said. “Further, it was suggested that the arrangement was reluctantly accepted by owners as a deal that would apply to everyone.”
He pointed out that the local improvement policy has changed a number of times over the years. Among the reasons for the proposed changes is that up until now the city used public funds to pay for infrastructure on private property as part of local improvement projects.
“On principle, the city disagrees with the practice of using public funds to pay for infrastructure on private property as it enriches private property owners with public money,” Gau said. “The new policy establishes that instead of paying for an LIC, they are instead responsible for the costs on their own property. In many instances, these costs are expected to be similar, depending on specific lot circumstances.”
It was also questioned whether discretionary charges would be successful; if property owners would indeed opt into the optional loan program for improvements to their property; whether recirculation pumps continue to be a priority for the city; what the public process would be for infrastructure projects; and it was argued there is a lack of criteria to determine if a project is an infrastructure initiative or discretionary charge.
Gau’s report addressed the concerns by stating the support needed for discretionary projects to move forward and stating the city would be pointing to the benefits of signing on to the city program to have work on properties done while the overall infrastructure project is underway. He also pointed out that recirculation systems continue to be required under the city’s utility bylaw when redevelopment of property happens.
While there would no longer be a formal objection process under the new policy, Gau noted residents could still address council about any infrastructure plans.
“Council will be able to hear from delegates and consider submissions when the design is brought forward for approval as well as when the capital budget is approved,” he stated in his report.
Coun. Laura Cabott pointed out the design for such projects typically happens after the capital budget has been approved.
Gau explained while the funding would be approved through the budget, the engineering process would be similar to the current practice with officials looking at what residents want and don’t want for their neighbourhood. Conceptual designs would come forward to council.
Coun. Steve Roddick also questioned Gau about recent projects. Gau noted that work to Industrial Road was done without an LIC, work to Tlingit Street is being done in partnership with the Kwanlin Dün First Nation (with the First Nation providing sand and gravel) and paving behind the Raven’s Inn off Second Avenue was done by the city as part of the sales agreements the city has in working to sell off the properties in the area.
Council members will vote July 14 on the proposed policy change.
Contact Stephanie Waddell at firstname.lastname@example.org