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Taxes are up and spending is down in city budget

Taxpayers will be paying more and Whitehorse officials will be spending less, city politicians have decided.

Taxpayers will be paying more and Whitehorse officials will be spending less, city politicians have decided.

New positions have been dropped, department spending has been slashed and the revenue generated from increased property assessments has been removed from the budget.

The new tax rate will be 7.5 per cent higher than last year for residential and 9.5 per cent higher for non-residential properties.

With the adjustments, the single family homeowners will be paying $92 more this year and country residential tax bills will be $68 higher, said Robert Fendrick, the city’s director of administrative services.

The average increase when all residential properties are tallied, including single-family and country residential, is $74, he added.

Gone from December’s projected budget are the parts person, a half-time environmental co-ordinator position, 24/7 emergency dispatch, a portion of the casual staff for the Parks and Public Works departments, and 10 per cent of every department’s discretionary spending.

The cuts are not enough considering council is bumping up taxes by 7.5 per cent at a time when Whitehorse is rolling in money, said councillor Doug Graham.

“I don’t think it went far enough,” said Graham.

“We have to sit back and ask yourself, ‘Why do we need a 7.5 per cent increase’ at a time when the city of Whitehorse has never had as much cash as we have now.

“The increase in the Yukon government’s municipal grant has gone up $400,000 this year alone, and it will go up another $400,000 a year for each of the next four years.”

The city has faced rising costs in the past but has never had to hit taxpayers as hard as it has the last few years, said Graham.

It all boils down to the city’s decision to host the Canada Winter Games, he added.

“It’s because we’re not taking a real close look at what we’re doing,” said Graham.

“Too many of our decisions are based on what happened five years ago when we made a decision to go ahead with the Canada Winter Games.

“All of the money that we would be contributing to necessary services, like fire services and roads, all those things are going to the multiplex.”

Unless the city starts doing some serious cutting, taxpayers should brace for a minimum tax increase of five per cent in each of the next two years, said Graham.

If the city cuts anymore, it may start having to drop whole departments, said Mayor Bev Buckway.

“We’ve experienced 28 per cent growth in our population since 2002 and that definitely has put a strain on city resources,” said Buckway.

“Trying to keep a balance with city infrastructure, providing support to seniors and user groups and being able to maintain our service levels was challenging this year and it will continue to be that way.

“I believe there’s only so far we can cut back without eliminating some departments and I hope we don’t have to do that.

It’s getting harder and harder to meet public demands for more service without raising taxes, added Buckway.

This year’s tax hike is big but necessary, said Dave Stockdale, the longest-serving city councillor in Whitehorse history.

“A 7.5 per cent increase is a large increase, it’s the largest that’s ever been imposed in my time here.

“But, when I look at the community and see the growth over the last six years in population and the expenses of water, road and sewer that have to be put in I can see why the increases have to come.”

A lot of the city’s financial needs are coming from the Canada Games Centre, but it’s worth it, he added.

“People are not exactly blaming the Games centre but are saying it’s a large part of it, and it is a large part of what we’re paying for in the community.

“But, I’d like to remind people that if we had not built that centre or hosted the Canada Games we wouldn’t have had that wonderful experience, we wouldn’t have a new Lion’s aquatic centre in town, we wouldn’t have a new soccer facility, we wouldn’t have a new walking track, a new phsyio centre, or two new sheets of ice.

“If it costs us a little more money to keep them in place, I think it’s well worth the expenditure.”

The situation with the games centre is getting better, said councillor Jan Stick.

“In terms of the Canada Games Centre we asked our staff to get the numbers up.

“Anybody can go up there and see that more and more people are going to the Canada Games Centre,” she said explaining that people have to expect some extra costs with the facility.

While she’s pleased with some of the changes, she’s not happy the city cut the emergency dispatcher, she said.