Coun. Betty Irwin was disappointed that the 2018-21 capital budget did not include considerations for replacing aging diesel buses with electric ones. (Crystal Schick/ Yukon News)

Whitehorse council approves 2018-21 capital budget

New budget goes into effect Jan. 1

Whitehorse city council voted to approve nearly $30 million in capital spending between 2018 and 2021 at its Dec. 11 meeting.

The budget covers approved city projects planned for the next four years, including $10.8 million of work slated for 2018.

The city has said previously the completion of the new operations building is its top priority. That project is slated to cost $55 million over the next three years, $23 million of which will come from the federal government through the gas tax fund.

The budget also sets aside $1.5 million to replace aging maintenance equipment. There’s $260,000 in 2018 on an environmental assessment for the “dismantling, demolitions and cleaning-up” of the municipal services building on Fourth Avenue, and $370,000 to improve parks, trails and playgrounds in the city, including $65,000 for playground equipment upgrades in Cowley Creek and Hidden Valley.

The budget passed first reading Nov. 14 and was open to public input until Nov. 27.

Council heard a report based on that public input at the Dec. 4 standing committees meeting, which included concerns about the demolition of Fire Hall #1, the Hillcrest reconstruction project and a perceived lack of transit and sustainability projects.

Additionally, resident Marianne Darragh spoke as a delegate regarding the budget at the Dec. 11 meeting. She was concerned that the budget allotted money for new curbside trash and green bins that were not specified as bear-resistant. Darragh also spoke on this issue in October in the wake of a record number of bears killed in interactions with humans this year.

Darragh said that she had been speaking to Wildwise, a group which promotes awareness about human-wildlife interactions, and that there is “a good deal of interest” in having bear-resistant carts.

Wildwise has suggesting a cart with an internal lock and latch system, which is already compatible with the garbage trucks in Whitehorse. That organization has ordered some to give to the city as a sample and is waiting on them to arrive, she said.

She asked that the budget be amended to include extra funding to purchase the bear-resistant carts and suggested using a placeholder until the exact cost of those carts was known so that the city “wasn’t scrambling” for funds.

When it came time to vote, Coun. Betty Irwin raised her own concerns, specifically about four replacement buses in the budget at a cost of $2.1 million over three years.

“Forgive me for getting up on my favourite soap box again,” Irwin said. “I am well aware that buses wear out and must be replaced but I am disappointed that they would be diesels. I would like to see some serious consideration made to replace our diesel fleet with electric buses.”

While it would not be practical to replace them all at once, Irwin said, she would like to see the the city consider replacing the diesels with electrics as the older buses age.

More developments in Whistle Bend and other suburbs may make increasing the size of the fleet necessary, Irwin said, and electric buses are cleaner and more efficient cost-wise to run.

“Cities can set ambitious goals even without exact plan for achieving them and this is an attitude I think we should adopt,” she said. “I don’t think anyone can argue that reductions in greenhouse emissions and noise pollution (aren’t) a good thing.”

Council did not make any amendments to the budget at the meeting before voting. It passed unanimously, with Coun. Rob Fendrick absent.

The budget will come into effect Jan. 1, 2018.

Contact Lori Fox at lori.fox@yukon-news.com

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