Whitehorse Daily Star

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FISCAL BLUEPRINT TABLED – Members of city council were split on the proposed 2018 operating budget unveiled Monday night. Councillors Dan Boyd and Samson Hartland voted against the $77-million spending plan.

Councillors oppose proposed budget

The city’s proposed $77-million operating budget for 2018 passed first reading Monday evening, but not all council members are on board with the plans.

By Stephanie Waddell on January 30, 2018

The city’s proposed $77-million operating budget for 2018 passed first reading Monday evening, but not all council members are on board with the plans.

The 5-2 vote in favour of first reading saw councillors Dan Boyd and Samson Hartland raise their hands against the budget and corresponding hikes in property taxes and city fees.

While residential property taxes would rise by 2.3 per cent, Boyd explained, non-residential property taxes would see a larger hike of 4.15 per cent.

Water and sewer bills are proposed to jump by four per cent from the current $78.98 per month to $82.14 monthly.

“We don’t need that much of an increase,” Boyd told reporters after the meeting.

As the budget moves forward, he said, he’s hoping he can convince his fellow council members that the non-residential tax rate should come down.

The average non-residential property owner would pay an additional $634 in taxes this year, or an additional $12 each week.

Boyd also cited concerns with the residential tax rate,.

The impact to the average home owner may not seem significant – with the average tax bill rising $54 each year or by $1 each week to $2,405 this year.

However, those with newer properties are being hit harder due to the high value of their properties, Boyd pointed out.

Last year, he noted, some tax bills on newer homes in the city were between $4,000 and $5,000 annually.

Boyd and Hartland told reporters they plan to bring forward some proposals for the budget in the coming weeks as the process moves along.

Those will include looking at ways to address the constant increases to the water and sewer bills those with properties on the city’s system have seen in recent years.

The two councillors would not, however, say what their ideas are, noting that’s a discussion that will happen later.

“I’m hopeful,” Boyd said of potential changes to the spending plan.

Meanwhile, Mayor Dan Curtis defended the plans in a nearly six-page budget speech made at the start of Monday’s meeting.

He emphasized that it’s through the operating budget that city services like road maintenance, snow removal, recreation programs and more are covered.

“It ensures the City of Whitehorse has enough lifeguards, accountants, engineers, planners, bylaw officers and many other employees to make the city’s programs and services work for you,” Curtis said.

He went on to point out the residential tax increase of 2.3 per cent is the third-lowest since 2006, and sits where it had been suggested it would be in the provisional budget released last year.

Along with releasing the proposed operating budget in a given year, the city brings forward a provisional budget for the following two years.

The provisional budgets unveiled last night for 2019 and 2020 also suggest tax increases of 2.3 per cent in each of those years as well with spending expected at $78.5 million in 2019 and $78.8 million in 2020.

Curtis emphasized the necessity of taxes (which make up about half of the operating budget) to cover the essential services that keep the city going.

Whitehorse’s taxes, he said, remain considerably lower than those of other similar-size cities.

Residential property owners in Penticton, B.C. for example, will pay an additional 3.44 per cent on their tax bill this year.

Port Moody, B.C. property owners saw their 2017 taxes leap by 5.97 per cent. Both Penticton and Port Moody have populations of about 33,000 residents, slightly more than Whitehorse.

The mayor highlighted the impact the budget has on the city.

“The operating budget allows us to increase our development incentives budget for the next three years, which grants development cost charges costs back to property owners who develop a secondary suite and taxes back to developers who build specific multiple housing developments,” he said.

“This successful program is seeing more and more applications each year. This program is one of the ways the city is able to meet its goal of increased affordable housing.”

The city works to make the best use of limited tax dollars while maintaining quality services for residents, Curtis said.

He then pointed out that water and sewer services, as well as waste collection (with the collection fee proposed to rise from $11 to $11.05 a month) are covered by user fees rather than the general tax base.

The proposed boost to water and sewer services, he explained, is required to keep pace with rising costs.

“The city’s infrastructure is aging, and it is not uncommon to experience water breaks or sewage issues,” he said.

“Whitehorse covers an area of 416 square kilometres. Coupled with a relatively small tax base, this presents certain challenges when it comes to maintaining our infrastructure.”

As an example, he pointed to groundwater that has to be treated and pumped from the Riverdale aquifer up to higher elevations and several pump houses to be distributed throughout the city’s neighbourhoods.

Meanwhile, there are 144 kilometres of sewer lines and nine lift stations city-wide that keep wastewater and sewage moving to the treatment plant.

“As you can see, the complexity of our systems helps illustrate the challenge we face as a municipality to keep our infrastructure in good condition,” Curtis said.

He then moved on to highlight the importance of recreation and greenspace to Whitehorse residents.

The city subsidizes 50 per cent of costs to recreation facilities, including the Canada Games Centre, the Takhini Arena, the Mount McIntyre Recreation Centre and the Frank Slim Building at Shipyards Park.

Along with the recreation facilities, many residents enjoy the 750 kilometres of trails throughout the community.

As the city does annually, recreation fees would increase by 1.5 per cent in September.

Other non-profit organizations offer a wide variety of programs the city supports through its grants.

“With your tax dollars, our city will continue to deliver top-quality services and programs to all resident and visitors alike,” Curtis said.

“This includes snow-clearing, road maintenance, fire protection and first response, transit, park and trail maintenance, recreation programs and a number of other important services.

“These municipal services are some of the many, many reasons why Whitehorse is an ideal place for employment, business, education and pure enjoyment for our Wilderness City.”

The mayor went on to note his appreciation for city staff, and invited the public to have their say on the proposed spending plan.

A public input session on the budget is set for the Feb. 12 council meeting, with a report on that input scheduled for Feb. 19.

Finally, second and third readings are expected to come forward Feb. 26.

Comments (17)

Up 1 Down 0

Could have easily been avoided on Feb 2, 2018 at 4:54 pm

Once again, the City proposes a tax increase with little information as to why it's necessary, unless a person can find the actual documents, and go through them line by line. And even then, it's not clear what drives increases in spending. I sent an e-mail to Finance, and they were quick to respond. But why oh why can't Mayor and Council provide a reasonable amount of information up front, instead of this annual gong show? The answer by the way, is labour costs, which make up a good portion of the annual operating budget ... and both union contracts are up.

Up 2 Down 0

AL on Feb 2, 2018 at 3:09 pm

# Johnson

Thank you for your condescending view on the world. Spoken like a true transplanted southerner!

Up 6 Down 0

Bill on Feb 1, 2018 at 4:04 pm

When is enough is enough.
When are the property owners going to demand that taxes be lowered?
Those retired and trying to remain in their own home are being 5 and 10 cents to death.
It is time this stopped along with line that they peddle that they are helping.

Up 0 Down 7

Johnson on Feb 1, 2018 at 12:22 pm

Lots of people spouting off about tax increases here, but how many of you actually know how city taxes work? My guess is none.
The city is actually decreasing the tax rate (which the journalist did not adequately explain, to be fair). The reason for the 'increase' is the increase in property value.

So the city is thriving which means property values are going up. Thus those who pay city taxes are receiving a nice return on their investment. Paying a little extra in tax is hardly the crushing blow you all are making it out to be.

And for the record, YG not, CoW is responsible for property assessments. These are still WELL (less than half) below market value, so be thankful your taxes haven't doubled with the value of your home.

Speak to a councilor and learn something before you go spouting off on the internet about something you don't understand.

Up 11 Down 0

Taxes vs spending on Feb 1, 2018 at 8:01 am

I don't begrudge paying taxes .. much. I get that they are necessary to support services. What I object to is the way taxes are spent, and I don't have much confidence that the City spends tax $$ well.

Up 7 Down 0

Lennie on Jan 31, 2018 at 11:23 am

The Mayor has to stop B.Sing us. Comparing Penticton & Port Moody to Whitehorse is a silly comparison. Just examine one area - POLICING - . Whitehorse does not pay for policing but those BC communities pay millions for their police service. It is coming, us Whitehorse people will one day have to form our own police force or contract same with RCMP. That will just be the start because Whitehorse will then have to pay for the office staff to fill out all those silly form and answer the counter etc. It goes on and on just in this one area. My friends residing in those areas certainly do not pay much more taxes than us. We all have bylaw people to look after animals, parking, garbage etc.
My taxes in Copper Ridge exceed $4600.00. I am a disabled senior living on my investments & income does not meet expenses. I have to hire assistance with my property and to retrieve my mail from the mailbox around the whole crescent from me.

Up 9 Down 0

Allan Foster on Jan 31, 2018 at 10:58 am

How long before Mayor's next photo op with a self-serving, fluff interest group that he has voted to fund ?

Any fiscally responsible candidate that runs in the next City Election will be getting my vote.

Up 8 Down 0

Not entirely buying this on Jan 31, 2018 at 10:05 am

My mother happens to be here from Penticton. Her property is valued at $475,000 which is fairly accurate. She pays $1700 a year in property taxes and an additional $600 (she thinks) in water and sewer. Total $2300. That is after a home owners grant.

An old DPW duplex pays $1400 a year plus $960 "water and sewer" = $2360 with no homeowners grant. Real value approximately $260,000. (It is unimproved.)

When I read articles like this one, it is difficult to ascertain what the increase is. Are they putting the rate of the taxes up? Or the value of the properties? Or both? When Dan talks about what people are paying elsewhere, is he including our 'water and sewer charge' which seems quite excessive! I doubt very much all that money is going to maintaining the water and sewer.

The sustainability department is the most recent large addition to ongoing city expenditures that I am aware of, and I wonder how we got by before that new department was hatched.
Too many consultants? This might be another area to chop. Talk to the staff at the city, they probably know better than anyone where operations could be cut.

I get the sense that we pay too much.

Up 10 Down 0

ralpH on Jan 31, 2018 at 8:46 am

Taxes and more taxes. Whitehorse has become one of the most unsustainable places on earth. We need to get it into our heads we are a northern community and that comes with some sacrifices. Canada has already started to ween us off the tit and no way we can pay for all these legacy projects Mayor and Council continue to shovel down our throats. On top of that we are seeing an influx of older Canadians that are here for the generous health care we provide. They are not willing to share the burden so I don't know how this all is going to float. Scary Stuff!!

Up 8 Down 0

Ray cooper on Jan 30, 2018 at 8:47 pm

Maybe this next election we get the business sector voted in, who could surely manage spending and have a much better idea how a business like the city should operate. Obviously this council has no idea the cost to maintain these ridiculous expenditures and the citizens keep getting burdened with these unnecessary costs.
Whitehorse should be the cheapest city in Canada to live.

Up 4 Down 5

Juniper Jackson on Jan 30, 2018 at 7:58 pm

I rent. Say, the water goes up 4.00 a month..my landlord will say..and has said.. sorry, the cost of maintaining this place went up..I'm gonna' have to raise that rent 250.00 a month.. I take solace in believing that karma has a cap on how much avarice it will tolerate before it takes a piece of that landlords butt.. that goes for trailer parks too..the landlord greed in those places is repulsive.

Up 3 Down 9

Mike Gladish on Jan 30, 2018 at 6:40 pm

Two councillors voted against the budget. The headline could have said “Mayor and four Councillors support the budget”.
Newer homes have higher taxes partly because they are bigger than most older homes. Much bigger.

Water and sewer costs will continue to rise until we make serious efforts to reduce water consumption. If we all cut consumption by 10% it should result in lower costs to pump, purify and distribute.

Build smaller, consume less. Be part of the solution!

Up 7 Down 0

Shirlee Fraser on Jan 30, 2018 at 5:51 pm

Great remarks made on comparisons to Penticton & Port Moody, there is no reason why Yukoners shouldn’t be able to get higher home owner grants to help with the raising property taxes & it also should be pointed out that these communities don’t endure 6-7 months of high heating bills we do... We haven’t gotten an accurate cost of living increase in over 10 years. I really wonder where residents are supposed to come up with more money all the time.

Up 6 Down 0

concerned citizen on Jan 30, 2018 at 5:32 pm

Today I watched 2 city graders and a loader make 38 passes to plow the snow into a windrow on my street in Porter Creek. I think with a little engineering we could vastly reduce the time and diesel fuel used to complete this task. With a carbon tax looming it is this kind of inefficiency that we should all be looking at eliminating.

Up 11 Down 0

Comparison to Penticton on Jan 30, 2018 at 4:16 pm

I snooped around the City of Penticton's website and yes, taxes are going up about 3% this year. There's a 'tax calculator' on the website that estimates what property taxes would be, and it's fairly similar to what my taxes in Whitehorse are. However the whole picture has to be compared, not one number - the BC Homeowners grant is $770 for basic (more for seniors). And garbage/recycling/sewer and water charges are about $720/year compared to almost $1200/year here. Penticton does have a great method of financial reporting, one that Whitehorse should emulate http://www.penticton.ca/assets/City~Hall/Financial~Plan~and~Budget/Budget~Presentations/Budget~2018/2018-22%20Financial%20Plan%20Overview.pdf

Up 11 Down 0

Hugh Mungus on Jan 30, 2018 at 3:43 pm

This crew is out of control.
Don't raise taxes. Cut the fat.

Up 11 Down 0

ProScience Greenie on Jan 30, 2018 at 3:23 pm

Did the average income for all CoW homeowners go up enough to cover increases in fuel, food, clothing etc costs? Did income go up enough to cover increases in existing taxes/fees from YG and the Feds? Did their income go up enough to cover the upcoming carbon tax?

If not, then senior city staff, mayor and council should learn to live within their means and halt any increases in taxes. They work for the citizens of CoW not the other way around.

Voter recall legislation should be on the ballot next election so residents can get rid of council members and Diamond Joe Quimby type mayors that put themselves and their friends before regular everyday taxpaying citizens.

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