The Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce wants to know exactly how the city is spending public money.
At a public input session on the city’s proposed 2014 operations budget on Monday night, Philip Fitzgerald, the chair of the chamber, outlined some of the business community’s concerns with the spending plan.
“We surveyed our membership last week after the city tabled its budget. Nearly 75 per cent believe the city could do a better job of communicating the reasons for its continued tax increases,” Fitzgerald said.
“The tax increase is 1.7 per cent this year, but the average tax increase over the last 10 years is more like seven per cent.”
Fitzgerald also noted that more than 80 per cent of respondents believe the city should present the capital and operations budgets together, something the chamber has been critical of throughout this year’s budgeting process.
The chamber also wants to see more information on the money that flows into city coffers, beyond property taxes, such as federal transfers and gas tax money.
As well, Fitzgerald said it’s important to have a breakdown on wages, the number of employees at year end, and exactly how much is spent on payroll, which the chamber says is the city’s largest single expense.
“Over 85 per cent of our respondents see the need for a budget bylaw that mandates what information is available when council presents its budget over the years … so we can compare apples to apples and oranges to oranges on a yearly basis,” Fitzgerald said.
Mayor Dan Curtis tabled the city’s proposed operations budget earlier this month. It cut an expected 4.5 per cent tax increase down to 1.7 per cent.
On Monday night Curtis compared Whitehorse’s budgeting process with that of larger cities.
“It’s important to do so, because all municipalities have the same struggles. Calgary and Edmonton have proposed 5 and 6 per cent increases respectively. Out staff is working very hard to keep taxes low,” he said.
Revenue has not kept pace with rising costs, Curtis said. That’s led the city to kick $1 million in spending down the road.
Of the $68 million operating budget, the council is putting $13 million into the city’s reserves.
That may seem like a lot of money to sock into the piggy bank during a “belt-tightening budget,” but acting city manager Brian Crist explained that number is based on a formula the city uses to maintain a healthy rainy day fund.
“That’s a standard formula that we use. It’s part of a reserve policy that we have, so the $13 million follows a standard format and it’s in place to ensure good fiscal health. It’s just standard practice,” Crist said.
The money doesn’t all go into one place, either. Instead, it will flow into various reserve funds, and be used as a buffer to cover maintenance and other potentially unseen costs.
Some of it will go into the city’s capital reserve, and could eventually be used to fund the city’s plan to consolidate its municipal services into two new buildings. It’s hard to say exactly how much because the total funding for those projects will come from a number of places, likely including federal transfer money, and the details are still being worked out, Crist said.
The city passed its $12.9 million capital budget for 2014 late last year.
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