Whitehorse mayor gives lukewarm response to territorial budget

Yukon's municipalities were "a bit absent" from last week's territorial budget, according to Whitehorse mayor Dan Curtis.

Yukon’s municipalities were “a bit absent” from last week’s territorial budget, according to Whitehorse mayor Dan Curtis.

The Yukon government tabled a record $1.39-billion budget on April 7, but Curtis said more could have been made available to municipalities.

“We’re grateful for what we receive from the federal and territorial governments,” he said.

“But the reality is we’re really struggling. It’s challenging to keep up the services that residents expect and keep our taxes down to what they are.

“We’re kind of the poor cousin.”

Curtis said he would have liked to see more financial assistance with the Canada Games Centre.

As it stands, the centre is being subsidized $3 million a year by Whitehorse taxpayers. But a portion of the visitors who use the facility come from the surrounding subdivisions and, as a result, get a discount, he said.

“If we had more resources coming from the (comprehensive) municipal grant then we’d be able to offset some of those costs,” he said.

“In his budget speech the premier talked about the importance of healthy communities. I think that would have been an investment in the health of our community.”

The Yukon government is exempt from paying municipal property taxes. Instead, it pays the Comprehensive Municipal Grant, which is doled out to Yukon’s incorporated communities every year. The formula takes into account population, properties, infrastructure and the tax base of each municipality.

In its first 16 years, the fund only increased $600,000 to $12.5 million. More recently, the fund grew to $16.6 million in 2012 and $18.27 million last year. But it remains virtually unchanged this year, Curtis said.

Other areas that could have benefitted from more investment include housing and solid waste management, he added.

The territory’s solid waste action plan hasn’t solved any of the recycling issues that are experienced in Whitehorse, Curtis said.

“It’s a challenge to have a bit of foot-dragging on that end,” he said.

“Extended producer responsibility is the key, but there’s resistance to have anything regulated.”

In southern Canada and in many countries around the world, EPR laws require manufacturers to fund and manage recycling and disposal programs for their products.

But there is no EPR policy in the Yukon, and it’s putting the burden on municipalities to find ways to fund the disposal of those products.

There were some positives in last week’s budget speech, Curtis said.

He mentioned the $8.4 million that’s been earmarked for the new Salvation Army homeless shelter, and $385,000 for new front-line police officers at the Whitehorse RCMP detachment.

And the Yukon government’s $2.5 million investment in the Municipal Matching Rental Construction Program is also positive, he added. That program creates partnerships between the Yukon government and municipalities to offer one-time capital grants up to $500,000 for eligible projects to help increase the amount of rental housing in the territory.

“Yukon Housing is working quite diligently with the city,” Curtis said.

“There is a bit of a glimmer of hope there.”

Contact Myles Dolphin at

myles@yukon-news.com

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