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Whitehorse mines its tax base

Living in Whitehorse just became more expensive.Property taxes will increase by 7.5 per cent next year followed by a four per cent increase in both…

Living in Whitehorse just became more expensive.

Property taxes will increase by 7.5 per cent next year followed by a four per cent increase in both 2009 and 2010.

Mayor Bev Buckway announced the increase during a budget address on Monday night.

“I did the math and for me personally the increase comes to about 40 cents a day,” said Buckway.

That’s about $150 a year.

“People want more. They’re not saying get rid of this or that, it’s, ‘why don’t we get this?’” said Buckway.

“To get extra money you can either raise revenues or cut services.”

Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce president Rick Karp was “shocked” to hear about the proposed property tax increase.

“Last year the city did a five per cent increase and business supported that,” he said.

“But we cautioned the city that they shouldn’t use land taxation to solve other problems.

“We told them, do not come back to the well.”

Buckway’s tax hikes stretch over the next three years, and will total 15.5 per cent.

That will be hard on businesses and residents aike, said Karp.

Especially considering the already escalating cost of living in the territory.

The city should consider cuts to city administration, said Karp.

“I’m not talking about cutting snow removal or emergency services but the day-to-day things.”

The Chamber of Commerce’s board will be meeting next week to discuss the proposed budget and create a formal response.

“We need incentives to attract new business and industry,” said Karp.

“An increase in the tax base is like going to the Alberta and BC border and putting up a great big stop sign.”

The tax increase will lead to an additional $4 million in revenue for the city.

More money will be created by increasing certain fees throughout the city.

Water and sewer charges will increase by three per cent and tipping fees at the landfill will increase by eight and a half per cent.

These increases will, for the first time, bring both services to a 100 per cent cost recovery basis.

With the over $4-million dollar sale of the Motorways land and Stan McCowan Arena, total revenues for the city are expected to increase by $9.5 million.

This brings the city’s operation budget to more than $50 million dollars.

So where is the money going?

The city plans to spend just under $100 million on capital projects over the next four years.

The $45 million the city will receive from the federal gas tax revenue fund will cover nearly half of this.

And $20 million will be spent on Takhini North and Downtown improvements, and $11 million on roadwork such as the Hamilton Boulevard extension and Robert Campbell Bridge widening.

As well, $16 million is budgeted to replace the municipal services building.

Replacing Fire Hall No. 2 with a new public safety building will cost $9 million.

A new 24-hour emergency dispatch service will also be created.

Councillor Doug Graham abstained from voting the budget through its first reading.

“There were some little things that I didn’t agree with, but I wasn’t trying to make a big statement or anything like that,” said Graham.

“There will be some changes, there’s no doubt about that.”

A number of new expenditures in the budget are unnecessary, said Graham.

Adding a parts-runner position to equipment maintenance was one example.

Increasing the money for sister city visits and increasing the environmental co-ordinator position from one fulltime to one and a half are also unnecessary.

“There’s a whole litany of things that just weren’t appropriate at this time,” said Graham.

“Especially given the size of the increase we’re looking at.

“I still maintain that the four or five positions we added to the multiplex last year was unnecessary.”

Nearly $3 million has been budgeted to cover operational costs at the Canada Games Centre.

Graham is also worried about how tax increases might affect people on fixed incomes, such as seniors.

“We’re looking at a 32.25 per cent increase over eight years if it goes ahead with four per cent in the next two years,” he said.

“Show me a pensioner that has had that kind of increase over this time.”

Budget information packages are available at city service buildings and on the city’s website.

“We’re happy to hear comments from everyone by e-mail, letters or in person,” said Buckway.

“I would like to hear not just people that are opposed to things, but also people that are in support.”

A forum for public input will be held on January 14 at the council meeting.