Whitehorse property tax bills would rise by less than a per cent — 0.34 per cent — if the City of Whitehorse’s proposed operating budget for the year is adopted as proposed.
The $88-million spending plan was unveiled at Whitehorse city council’s Jan. 11 meeting with council members passing first reading of the budget bylaw.
Along with outlining the tax increase — which translates into an anticipated average tax bill of $2,544, or $9 more than last year’s average bill — potential changes to other fees and charges for 2021 were also highlighted.
Those on the city water and sewer system will not see those fees rise, continuing to pay $85.85 for the services, while waste/compost collection rates would rise by 2.76 per cent, bringing the monthly bill for standard residential collection up to $12.95 per month from $12.60.
Rentals and passes for the Canada Games Centre and city parks as well as advertising rates in the city’s Active Living Guide would also rise by 1.5 per cent as it typically does every year in September.
In his five-page budget speech, Mayor Dan Curtis pointed out it is through the operating budget that the city pays for everyday services such as transit, road maintenance, snow removal and recreation programs.
“This budget allows us to move forward in a fiscally responsible way and to live within our means, especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic impacts,” Curtis said, going on to reflect on 2020 as “one of the most challenging years in our community’s history.
“Although the COVID-19 pandemic has significantly affected plans and projects in many municipalities across the country, we are proud to say our projects have not experienced any major delays.”
The city will continue monitoring the impact of the pandemic on the city’s budget, he said.
“We know that residents and businesses have suffered in 2020, and we have worked very hard to keep our property taxes low in an attempt to alleviate some of that financial hardship,” he said.
The proposed 0.34 per cent tax increase is below the 2.2 per cent increase that had originally been projected in 2020 and is the lowest tax increase in more than a decade, the mayor emphasized.
“A minimal tax increase allows the city to maintain its many existing services and programs, while also supporting important initiatives such as climate change mitigation and enhanced bylaw enforcement,” Curtis said.
To that end, the city is planning to hire two new positions — an environmental coordinator for the operations department and another bylaw officer.
The environmental coordinator will oversee corporate energy management mainly for city buildings and, “to a lesser extent,” city vehicles.
“This helps the city achieve actions around climate change mitigation and adaptation, directly addressing council’s declaration of a climate change emergency in September 2019,” he said. “Moreover, it will support the city’s efforts towards environmental sustainability by managing corporate energy emissions and capital projects related to energy reduction.”
As for the hiring of a new bylaw officer, Curtis pointed to the growth Whitehorse has experienced in recent years, noting that has resulted in increased public awareness and greater expectations around compliance and enforcement of city bylaws.
“This officer will help conduct more in-depth investigations, enforce bylaws and patrol our phenomenal trails, which have seen greater use as more residents explore our wilderness due to the public health emergency,” Curtis said.
The city’s growth has meant more taxpayers in the city “who share the cost of additional services, allows us to add these positions while keeping the property tax increase low.”
In an interview following council’s Jan. 11 meeting, Curtis said growth is also playing a role in the city’s ability to keep water and sewer rates stable.
While fees for solid waste will rise 2.75 per cent, the mayor noted that is largely due to the renewal in 2020 of three contracts for operators at the landfill.
In reflecting on the lower increases to taxes and water/sewer bills, Curtis also highlighted the financial help of the federal and territorial governments in dealing with the impacts of COVID. He said there’s a number of cities throughout Canada that are facing substantial tax increases due to the impacts of COVID.
“Fortunately, the city is well-positioned to rebound from the challenges posed in 2020,” he said. “We aren’t in a position where we have to cut any programs or services, and we are very thankful for that.”
While the city has worked to keep the tax increase low, Curtis also noted in a post-meeting interview that the city recognizes a number of residents have lost jobs or are on reduced working hours due to COVID and may have trouble paying taxes. City staff, he said, can work with individuals on payment plans and making other arrangements to accommodate those who need it.
With first reading of the operating budget now passed, a public input session on the proposed spending plan will be held Jan. 25.
Residents are invited to submit their comments in writing to firstname.lastname@example.org or to the city clerk’s office at city hall.
A report on the public input will come forward Feb. 1 with council expected to vote on the final readings of the budget Feb. 8.
Contact Stephanie Waddell at email@example.com