Whitehorse city council has confirmed Sunday bus service is coming to town.
At its Feb. 28 meeting, council adopted the $93.4 million 2022 operating budget, which includes $4.89 million to run bus service seven days a week, rather than the six days a week it runs now. The 2021 budget saw the city budget $4.77 million on transit for the year.
City officials anticipate Sunday transit service starting in mid-March.
Along with the $93.4 million budget for 2022 were provisional operating budgets outlined for 2023 and 2024 — expected at $95.4 million in 2023 and $97.5 million in 2024.
Property owners in the city will see their property tax bills increase 2.65 per cent, meaning the average homeowner will pay an additional $67 this year in property taxes, while the average commercial property owner will see an increase of $124 this year.
Water and sewer rates will remain at $85.85 per month, while minimal curbside waste collection rates (one compost and garbage bin per home) will increase to $13.47 per month from the current $12.95. A number of other city fees and charges will also see changes, including the annual increase to recreation and facility service fees of two per cent.
Concerns with the process
Council was unanimous in passing second and third reading of the bylaws for the overall budget, taxes and fees, although Coun. Ted Laking initially voted against bringing the budget forward to second and third reading.
Laking explained he was not opposed to the budget itself, but voted against going forward to the final two readings as a way to express his opposition to moving past the public input phase of the budget process.
A public input session is held following first reading of the budget, but Laking said that does not allow time for the city to “thoughtfully consider and, perhaps, even make adjustments, based upon public feedback.”
This time around, the city received public input from about 10 people on the budget. Many called for improvements to the city’s active transportation network and snow clearing, with others calling for some other changes as well.
An administrative report on the public hearing highlighted a number of efforts to improve active transportation networks while highlighting increased funding for snow clearing with other suggestions (such as revisions to the senior utility rebate program, allowing for credit card payments for property taxes and more) sent to the appropriate departments for future considerations.
Laking argued the process did not allow the city to provide a high-level response to many of the comments received. He suggested input could happen earlier in the process when the budget is being developed.
“I don’t think the spirit and intent of what public input is supposed to be has been met,” he said.
While other council members voiced their support for the budget, they also took note of Laking’s comments, suggesting changes to the public input process should be considered for the future.
“We’ve always been talking about trying to encourage more engagement from the public with the budget processes,” Coun. Jocelyn Curteanu said. “And what better way to do that than to actually and transparently show the public that we are taking their input into consideration, that we are looking at options.”
Support for the spending plan
Curteanu also said she was in favour of the budget, highlighting that the city is able to keep the tax increase to 2.65 per cent while also expanding bus service.
Others also pointed to the increased bus service and work done to keep the tax increase as low as possible.
As Coun. Kirk Cameron said, the increase of 2.65 per cent is lower than the four or five per cent increase to overall living expenses that have been seen recently.
Coun. Mellisa Murray also stated her support, noting that she wants to see the suggestions that came forward through the public input considered in the future.
“I don’t want to see those disappear,” she said.
Mayor Laura Cabott stated her thoughts that it’s a “fairly progressive operating budget” that takes into account the services the city must provide while also considering and working towards what residents want.
She also highlighted the work of city staff in drafting and redrafting the budget.
“I really want to thank administration for all the work that they did in putting this together, not just the first draft that council had a crack at, but the second, and then coming back even once again to find the things that we are being asked to do, but to keep the taxes low.”
Laking too acknowledged, “there’s a lot to like in this budget,” highlighting plans to hire more firefighters, development officers and more, along with the additional bus service.
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