The City of Whitehorse isn’t likely to dole out any funding to MacBride Museum until its taxes are paid.
A recommendation for the city’s spring recreation grants came forward to council April 29 with MacBride being the only applicant not recommended for any grant amount due to taxes it owes the city.
The recreation grant policy states: “Grant applications are not accepted from any group or organization that is overdue on money or obligations owed to the City of Whitehorse.”
The museum had applied for $60,000. It planned to spend the money on a staff programmer position and operation costs.
It’s through the city recreation grants that the Young Explorers preschool program, Way Back Wednesdays which look at a different facet of Yukon history each week and the popular summer day camps many Whitehorse youngsters take part in, are offered along with other initiatives through the year, museum chair Rick Nielsen explained.
The museum is facing property tax bills totalling $154,000 for 2018 and 2019 which the museum society says it can’t pay. The 2019 taxes are not due until July 2, but the 2018 bill – at more than $64,000 including penalties and interest – is past due.
Last year marked the first year the museum was faced with an amount owing on property taxes after the city capped its grant- in-lieu of taxes program, which provides grants to non-profits for a portion or the full amount of property taxes for the year.
Nielsen has said the grant program for taxes resulted in the society having never paid property taxes in its 67-year history.
With core funding from the Yukon government totalling about $182,000 per year, the society says it doesn’t have the funds to pay taxes and operate the museum as it does now. A resolution was passed at its annual general meeting stating it would be willing to sell the museum land and buildings to the territory provided the society retains the ability to operate the museum independently.
Nielsen said the museum sent the city a letter stating it was working to resolve the tax issue, but that would not happen prior to the recreation grants being awarded. It asked the city provide the recreation grant, recognizing work is underway to deal with the taxes.
Asking the museum to pay the taxes is essentially like telling it to pick up a bucket it’s already standing in, Nielsen said.
He acknowledged it’s entirely within the city’s purview not to provide recreation grants to anyone who has taxes owing.
As for what it will mean for the museum’s programs, Nielsen said that’s not yet clear.
“It certainly will have an effect,” he said, adding the museum board is scheduled to meet next week and look at where it goes from here.
The focus of the museum will “shift dramatically” from preserving, showcasing and providing education on Yukon history to “staying solvent”, Nielsen said.
Along with the museum on Front Street, MacBride also operates the waterfront trolley and the Copperbelt Mining Museum on the Alaska Highway throughout the summer months.
It was learned in the legislature April 30 that the territory will no longer be funding the trolley.
“The Waterfront Trolley has in fact been supported financially by Highways and Public Works,” Tourism and Culture Minister Jeanie Dendys said. “The Government of Yukon financially supported the Whitehorse Waterfront Trolley for 18 years. Given our current fiscal framework and the numerous fiscal pressures, the Government of Yukon has made the decision to no longer fund the trolley.”
Details on just how much the territory provides for the trolley were not available by press time today.
The intent had been for the trolley to become self-sufficient, Dendys pointed out.
“This has not happened,” she said. “Beyond the core funding, significant infrastructure upgrades are required to keep the trolley running safely. That’s not happening. With the ongoing development of the waterfront area, we do not feel that it is financially responsible to continue investing millions of dollars in infrastructure upgrades required to keep the trolley running safely through an area that has not been fully developed yet.”
She also highlighted the government’s support for the museum “and the role it plays in illustrating and preserving Yukon’s history.”
Back at city hall, other organizations recommended for the city’s spring recreation grants are most likely to get a portion of what they requested with 20 organizations recommended to split $69,465 for recreational programs, another five parks and recreational facilities to receive $31,600 and four arts and cultural facilities (which MacBride would have fallen under) to receive a total of $34,352.
Council will vote on the grants at its May 6 meeting.
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