The average Whitehorse property owner will pay another $92 in taxes this year if the city’s proposed operating budget passes.
“It’s completely out of line,” said Coun. Doug Graham of the proposed four-per-cent increase.
“Anything more than two per cent is too much.”
When the $63.4-million operating budget passed first reading on Monday, Graham was the only councillor who didn’t vote for it.
Graham’s opposition wasn’t a surprise to Deputy Mayor Dave Stockdale, who presented the budget to council.
“I know Coun. Graham is never happy with the budget,” said Stockdale. “Personally, I’m very happy with it.”
Without the four-per-cent increase the city has few options, said Stockdale.
“If you want to really cut into the budget you have to cut services, and no one wants that,” said Stockdale. “We’re a non-profit-making association, we’re supposed to balance our budget, not make a profit on things.
But the assertion the budget is balanced is precisely the reason Graham voted against it at first reading.
“It’s not a balanced budget,” he said. “We’re taking almost $1.1 million out of reserves in order to float this budget.”
By using reserves to make up for the shortfall, the city will only be left with $12,000 reserves not earmarked for specific projects, said Graham.
The four-per-cent hike means the average Whitehorse property owner will pay about $2,100 a year in tax.
The budget also includes a 20 per cent increase in user fees for day camps, and a 7.3 per cent increase to water and sewer fees.
Even with the increases in taxes and fees, Whitehorse residents would continue to pay one of the lowest municipal tax rates for a city of its size, said Stockdale.
But there’s little relief in sight.
Because of its growing population, the city is predicting a four-per-cent tax increase next year, and the year after that.
“We’ve already had a double digit increase in the last few years,” said Graham. “Citizens here can’t afford these kinds of increases to keep going.”
The labour costs are a huge part of the city’s budget, said both Stockdale and Graham.
This latest budget sets aside more than $200,000 to hire additional staff for emergency services and infrastructure maintenance.
It proposes hiring two full-time dispatch officers for the fire department, an additional firefighter, a new city planner and building maintenance person.
The budget also allocates $276,000 this year and more than $400,000 in following years to improve the Whitehorse transit system.
“The new service is going to provide more consistent schedules,” said Whitehorse transit manager Dave Muir. “The current schedule is very confusing.”
The new transit system, which takes effect in July, is also going to provide more efficient service to all areas of the city, said Muir.
“The new transit loop system will allow people from any community in the city of Whitehorse to get direct to the downtown core without the need of a transfer,” he said.
With the new changes in place, Muir said the city is projecting a ridership increase of 30 per cent.
Citizens will get a chance to voice their opinion on the proposed budget during a public meeting on March 14.
The second and third reading of the budget is scheduled for March 28.
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