Plans for a new operations building take up lion’s share of city’s capital budget

The City of Whitehorse has earmarked $39.1 million in the 2017 capital budget for its new operations building.

The City of Whitehorse has earmarked $39.1 million in the 2017 capital budget for its new operations building.

Mayor Dan Curtis presented the budget at Monday’s council meeting.

It will need to pass second and third readings and be approved by council on Dec. 12 before it becomes official. A public hearing is slated for Nov. 28.

The new building takes up the lion’s share of the $46.6 million the city plans to spend next year on capital projects. By comparison, the total capital budget for 2018 is $9.2 million and 2019’s is set at $8.7 million.

Advocates for a new operations building have long maintained that current staff are working in buildings that are old, deteriorating, and expensive to maintain.

Located on Two Mile Hill, the building would become home base for departments like fleet maintenance, waste and water services, utility systems, engineering, operations, transportation maintenance and traffic maintenance.

“By relocating and consolidating our operations, this project means that fewer pieces of heavy equipment will be seen in the downtown core and prime real estate will be available for development in our downtown and industrial areas,” the mayor said in his speech to council.

“In addition, this project will invest in energy efficiencies such as solar panels and HVAC systems to help reduce our energy footprint.”

The total budget for the new operations building is $45.7 million, according to the budget documents. That number has been refined since early estimates pegged the cost at $47 million.

Both of those numbers are just estimates until the design is chosen. Several design estimates will be completed this year and early next year, Curtis said.

If it’s approved, construction would happen next year.

On top of the $39.1 million expected to be spent in 2017, the city has already spent $5 million on planning, design and prepping the new site. Another $1.5 million is set to be spent in 2018.

Members of council didn’t get a chance to speak at Monday’s meeting. That will happen later in the process. But the idea of spending that kind of cash on a new building has been met with skepticism by some city councillors.

Coun. Samson Hartland has voted against every contract connected with the project up to and including a clearing contract that was awarded by council on Monday night.

Coun. Dan Boyd has also voiced his concerns about the project. He has so far voted in favour of the early contracts but repeatedly noted any work done to prepare the land will still have value if something different is built there.

The city would pay for the new building with a combination of federal gas tax money, city reserves and money borrowed from the bank. In his speech, Curtis said the city “will still have sufficient funds left in reserves for other infrastructure priorities and projects.”

Gas tax money will cover about $15 million, leaving the city to cover around $30 million. How much of that money will come from reserves and how much will become city debt is still not clear.

City staff have so far refused to back up the mayor’s statement with estimates of how much cash the city will need to borrow.

A spokesperson for the city said a financial breakdown will be discussed at next week’s meeting.

Curtis has suggested more funding might be available from other levels of government. The city’s budget lists external money that it expects to get approved. More money for the operations building did not make that list.

“Even though I’m the eternal optimist and I’m quite confident that we will be able to get more resources, administration doesn’t work that way,” Curtis said after the meeting. “They just work on the facts, how much money we have.”

A budget doesn’t need unanimous support from council to get passed. Curtis said he’s very confident the project is something the city can afford.

He also insists, as he has from day one, that this is not a luxury, but a necessity.

“We can’t maintain the roads and the streets and the services in other neighbourhoods if we can’t have a place for our equipment and the people that do the work,” he said.

“We have the second largest city in all of Canada geographically speaking, with over 700 kilometres of roads, pipe and trails. So the amount of work we do with the staff that we have is nothing short of remarkable.”

The operations building was originally part of an even larger building consolidation plan that included a new services building that was going to be built around the same time and renovations to the transit building.

That trio of projects have since been split up and spread out over the next four years.

The services building is now slated to cost $9.9 million over three years from 2018 to 2020, according to the city’s forecasts.

Transit building upgrades are expected to cost $620,000 in 2019.

Though the operations building is likely to take up most of the conversation when the capital budget is discussed, the city will be spending on other things next year.

There’s $1 million for asphalt overlay on Fourth Avenue from Robert Service Way to Main Street.

The city is spending $500,000 next year on a detailed design for the reconstruction of Hillcrest’s infrastructure. Beginning in 2018, the work itself will include water, sewer, and road construction.

The city is expecting $666,000 in outside funding so Pioneer Cemetery can be restored “to a place of prominence and a worthy tribute to Yukon pioneers laid to rest,” the mayor said. “These improvements will make grounds maintenance less expensive and time-consuming, making the cemetery a safer and more respected public space.”

Outside funding is also expected to cover nearly $2 million over three years to give the city’s main roads permanent line markings. According to the mayor, these new markings will be built slightly below pavement level so they can be safely plowed without wearing off.

Thanks to federal transit funding, the city will add two new transit buses to replace two 13-year-old buses.

The city’s complete budget is available online at www.whitehorse.ca/budget.

Contact Ashley Joannou at ashleyj@yukon-news.com

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