Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce calls for freeze on municipal taxes

The president of the Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce says he doesn't believe the City of Whitehorse can justify its proposed property tax increase for 2016.

The president of the Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce says he doesn’t believe the City of Whitehorse can justify its proposed property tax increase for 2016.

“Yukon’s economy has shown a GDP decline for the past three years,” Rick Karp told members of city council on Monday evening.

“And it’ll probably show a decline this year, as well. We don’t believe this is the time to increase taxes.”

Your typical Whitehorse homeowner will pay another $39 in property taxes this year, provided that the City passes its 2016 operating budget.

The average Whitehorse business, meanwhile, would pay an extra $250 in taxes this year.

For both households and businesses, it’s a 1.7 per cent increase, the same as in 2015.

Karp said local businesses are having a tough time because of the poor Canadian economy.

“They’ve had to make some hard decisions to reduce their expenses and cut back wherever necessary to stay viable,” he added.

He said he wants the City to cut back, too. He’s also recommending that it follow Yellowknife’s example.

Members of city council for the Northwest Territories capital voted in December to not raise taxes in 2016, the same as in 2015.

But the cuts come at a cost.

According to Northern News Services, members of council cut $570,000 that would have gone towards a splash park adjacent to Somba K’e Civic Plaza, a move that disappointed mayor Mark Heyck.

They also cut a computer program to track bylaw enforcement officers for $67,000, which Heyck called “troubling.”

The last year Whitehorse did not increase taxes was in 2003, according to the City’s website. There has been a property tax increase every year since then.

Karp argued the City of Whitehorse could get away with no tax increase because of its budget surpluses over the years.

The city saw an annual surplus of $2 million in 2014. It also had surpluses in 2012 and 2013.

In 2014 the City’s reserves had grown to $28 million, up from $14 million in 2009.

“We feel there are sufficient finances there now to proceed with the building (consolidation project) and yet not have a tax increase,” Karp said.

“Look carefully at the budgeting process that is in place now and where there’s a possibility of saving some money.”

One of Karp’s suggestions was to possibly decrease the number of employees who work for the City, 377 of whom are full-time, he said.

Financial services manager Valerie Braga said later in an email that she heard early on from members of council they were not interested in cutting major programs or services, “but that they wanted administration to explore operational efficiencies to provide best value to citizens.

“Consistent with past years, Finance worked with all departments to ensure that this direction was followed and prioritized the required service funding with the City Services Policy. If the City were to enact a zero per cent property tax increase, over $600,000 in services would have to be cut.

“This would require council to make large service adjustments.”

Second and third reading of the operating budget will be held on March 29.

Contact Myles Dolphin at

myles@yukon-news.com

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