The city doesn’t need to raise taxes, it needs to use its imagination.
“Let’s be creative and not just rely on tax increases,” said Rick Karp, the president of the Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce.
The proposed four per cent tax increase in this year’s operating budget is well above both the regional and national rates of inflation, and will stifle city growth, he warned.
“The city is not showing leadership or sustainable development,” Karp said in his address to council Monday.
“This budget attacks our most vulnerable citizens,” he said. “There is a large group of people in Whitehorse who are disenfranchised, and this group is hurt every time a budget like this comes out.”
The Chamber of Commerce wants to see the city take another look at streamlining its operation before it embarks on another round of tax increases.
“I agree with you,” said Coun. Ranj Pillai.
When running for election last year, Pillai said that continued tax increases were pushing families out of the city and eroding the tax base.
However, a moderate tax increase is necessary said Pillai.
“There is a one per cent increase for transit,” he said. “Lots of people work in retail who need a viable transit system.”
Transit and inflation combined would mean a tax increase of three per cent.
While the Chamber is supportive of the new transit plans, they challenged the city to think outside of the box to find other sources of revenue.
That got Cam Kos thinking.
“Has the city considered changing the tax rate to encourage people to develop?” asked Kos.
He suggested the city raise property taxes on vacant or derelict lots that are being held for speculation.
“I’m probably going to get some angry calls from friends,” he said. “But they should be developing the land.”
Putting something like that in place would be complicated, said Mayor Bev Buckway.
“Who’s going to determine what’s derelict and not?”
When asked about the old Canadian Tire building that has been sitting idle for years, Buckway said the city has had discussions with the property owners many times to see what’s holding things up.
“The owners have their own reasons,” she said, but would not elaborate.
The city has looked at ways to save money, but without cutting services the city has only so many options.
“We’re limited how we can raise taxes,” said Buckway. “We don’t have industry here, so it does fall to the property owners. It’s not a real comfortable place for a municipality to be in.”
Contact Josh Kerr at firstname.lastname@example.org