Mayor tables ‘bare bones’ capital budget

Whitehorse Mayor Dan Curtis tabled his government's proposed capital spending plans for the next four years at a city council meeting last night. The budget is smaller than in recent years. It's also earlier.

Whitehorse Mayor Dan Curtis tabled his government’s proposed capital spending plans for the next four years at a city council meeting last night.

The budget is smaller than in recent years. It’s also earlier.

“It was a direction by mayor and council to administration to get it out early,” Curtis said. “That’s what we heard from the community, they wanted to have this budget out as soon as possible for public input.”

The proposed plan, which is scheduled for second and third reading on Dec. 9, lays out $12.9 million in allocations, mostly for water and sewer infrastructure, trails, roads and upgraded firefighting services.

“It’s kind of boring by some standards,” Curtis said. “It’s a bare bones budget. That’s what we said we would do when we got elected, and that’s what we’re doing.”

There are no grand new facilities planned, just standard maintenance of the city’s basic infrastructure. The only new toy the city can brag about is a pumper truck for the fire department. The department will also be getting upgrades to all the city’s fire hydrants, and the fire hall, totaling $850,000.

Other highlights include $2.6 million for drinking water infrastructure. Much of that work will be done in Whistle Bend. The Selkirk aquifer and Hillcrest water systems will both be getting upgrades, as well as new water and sewer lines along downtown’s Ogilvie Street.

“Parks and trails contribute to the great quality of life that our citizens enjoy,” Curtis said before announcing that the city will see $240,000 in upgrades to parks and playgrounds.

There will be $100,000 in upgrades to the Canada Games Centre, $150,000 in new heating and other updates to the Mount McIntyre Rec. Centre and $250,000 to implement the city’s new solid waste action plan – which aims to cut the amount of garbage going into the landfill by half over the next few years.

A significant portion of the city’s budget comes from the federal gas tax, which could stretch things pretty thin when that program expires next year.

“(The gas tax) helps the city keep costs and taxes low for Whitehorse citizens. It is absolutely vital that gas tax funding levels for Whitehorse are maintained when the program is removed next year,” Curtis said.

In the lead-up to the budget tabling, the city held public consultations to hear feedback on what residents and businesses wanted to see. Curtis himself drew some flak from the Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce for planning a tax increase.

The chamber also suggested that the city present its capital and operating budgets at the same time, so that businesses and residents can see the whole picture of where the city plans to spend, and how.

But that just wasn’t feasible, Curtis said.

“You know, the thing is we have a lot of public consultation. The two budgets are very, very large, and they’re very involved. We appreciate the input from the chamber and local business, but many of these people have one or two businesses. We have more like 12 businesses.

“Trying to present both budgets at once, it’s very difficult. The chamber’s suggestion was ‘please give us the budget before you’ve made any decisions’ and that’s exactly what we did. We walked up with a clean slate and asked, what does the community think? What do you guys think?” Curtis said.

“But it’s essentially presenting a blank sheet. To do that with the capital and the operations, it’s very, very difficult, if not impossible. Logistically, if we had more people, maybe, but the administration is very taxed already,” he said.

There will be another public input night on Nov. 18, and the budget will go to second and third reading on Dec. 9. The operating budget, which is estimated at $65 million, will be presented Jan. 13 and will go to second and third reading in February.

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