Whitehorse city councillors who called for lower taxes satisfied with operating budget

Two Whitehorse city councillors who called for more fiscal responsibility during their election campaigns last year say they're satisfied with the proposed operating budget set to be voted on next Tuesday.

Two Whitehorse city councillors who called for more fiscal responsibility during their election campaigns last year say they’re satisfied with the proposed operating budget set to be voted on next Tuesday.

Both Dan Boyd and Samson Hartland said they wanted to tackle tax increases and keep the City’s spending habits in check when they ran for a seat on city council.

In February, council unveiled the 2016 operating budget. It features a 1.7 per cent increase in property taxes for both residents and businesses, the same as in 2015.

Your typical Whitehorse homeowner will pay another $39 in property taxes this year, provided the city passes its budget at the end of the month. The average Whitehorse business would pay an extra $250.

The City is anticipating the same increase next year and a 2.3 per cent increase in 2018.

Boyd said one of the reasons the budget was delayed this year is because council and administration worked so hard to get the tax increase as low as possible.

“And we did achieve a certain amount of success, as we’ve reduced costs by about $330,000,” he said.

“That’s equal to about a one per cent tax increase.”

But Boyd said he would have liked to see even more cuts. He had hoped to lower the tax increase to 1.5 per cent, he said.

After several meetings and an endless back and forth between members of council and administration, the 1.7 per cent increase represents what most people could agree on, he added.

“There was a feeling this was a spot where the majority of council could live with,” he said.

“I think we did reasonably well, all things considered, to achieve this.”

At Monday evening’s council meeting, Valeria Braga, the city’s manager of financial services, talked about some difficult cuts that were made to the upcoming budget.

Departmental requests denied included increased patrols on the waterfront and trails, training for the fire department and additional building maintenance staff, among others.

Last year, Hartland said he planned on tackling the tax increase because of its impact on seniors and people with fixed incomes.

“You have builders of our community being pushed out of their homes because they can’t afford to pay the taxes anymore,” he said in August.

One challenge council and administration faced, he explained, was to try and keep property taxes to a minimum despite the increase in assessments this year.

Every other year, the Yukon government reviews and reassesses the value of over 22,000 properties and buildings in the territory.

The assessment increased by about $6,000 per building this year, Braga told council on Monday.

The City uses the government’s assessment rate and multiplies it with its own mill rate to come up with the property tax increase.

“We actually dialed back the mill rate this year and that’s a sacrifice people don’t see,” Hartland said.

Rick Karp spoke to members of council last week and encouraged them to follow Yellowknife’s model, which was to freeze taxes for 2016.

One suggestion was to take funds from the City’s many reserves in order to achieve that.

Hartland said Karp made a lot of valid points during his presentation.

“You’re right, we could go into the reserves more than we ever have before to balance the budget,” he said.

“And that’s still an option. But is that sustainable?

“What we’re hearing from our own experts is they truly believe the budget in front of us is the best we can do.”

Boyd said the City transferred $9.7 million into its reserves last year, and anticipates a transfer of $10.5 million this year.

The reserves are being built up to fund large capital projects such as the construction of two new headquarters for the City’s staff, one at the top of the Two Mile Hill and one downtown.

Both Boyd and Hartland said they’re in favour of taking a much closer look at how the City can scale down those plans and save costs.

“I’ve brought it up many times,” Boyd said, “and the reality is we’re going at it slower than originally planned.”

“We have to keep it affordable and we have a commitment not to raise taxes because of it.”

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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