Yukon North Of Ordinary

News archive for March 26, 2013

‘Mount Sima hijacked the whole process’

City taxpayers will pay an extra 3.83 per cent on their property taxes this year and nothing less.

By Stephanie Waddell on March 26, 2013 at 3:00 pm

photo

Photo by Whitehorse Star

Dave Stockdale, Mike Gladish and Kirk Cameron

City taxpayers will pay an extra 3.83 per cent on their property taxes this year and nothing less.

Council adopted the $65-million operating budget in a 4-3 vote Monday night.

Earlier in the evening, council defeated motions which would have deferred the budget vote or brought the tax hike down to just over two per cent rather than the 3.83.

Councillors Kirk Cameron, Jocelyn Curteanu and Dave Stockdale voted against the budget and the accompanying tax boost.

They were also the only three council members to vote in favour of Cameron’s proposal that the tax increase be brought down to two per cent.

Stockdale and Curteanu were the only two members in favour of Stockdale’s proposal earlier to defer the budget decision by two weeks.

In suggesting the deferral, Stockdale noted his frustration with things that are happening at the city level.

He rhymed off a long list of issues he had brought forward to city administration prior to last night’s meeting.

He took issue with the two layoffs; the proposed hiring of two firefighters; argued there wasn’t enough time spent working on the budget; and suggested there should have been a more consultive process (a suggestion he credited to Coun. Betty Irwin).

Finally, he argued the city could look at using reserves to bring down the tax increase.

Stockdale also took issue with the funding request from the Great Northern Ski Society for $400,000 in immediate funding for the Mount Sima ski hill and recreation area as well as working toward a long-term core funding plan that could see another $400,000 handed over annually.

The society brought forward the request during council’s public input session into the budget earlier this month. More than 20 delegates from various groups who use Sima expressed their support for the hill’s continued operations.

“Mount Sima hijacked the whole process,” Stockdale argued last night.

The budget adopted has no funding for Sima. Council and city management, however, are scheduled to discuss the matter at a meeting Wednesday evening from which the public will be barred.

Given all the issues he brought forward, Stockdale argued, there needed to be more discussion before council could vote on the spending plan.

City manager Stan Westby pointed out staff had responded to Stockdale’s concerns in an earlier correspondence.

Westby also noted that under the Municipal Act, the city must adopt its budget by April 15.

A two-week delay would have set the next budget vote for April 8.

That statement came after Cameron questioned whether there were any consequences to delaying the budget vote.

Westby noted there could be legal expenses incurred if the budget was not adopted by the April 15 deadline.

Rob Fendrick, the director of corporate services, said he shares Westby’s concerns over the timing.

Fendrick also noted, however, that the city could ask the territorial government for an extension. That way, the city could continue operating on the provisional budget from which it has been operating since Jan. 1.

Despite the looming deadline, Curteanu voiced her support for Stockdale’s deferral.

She pointed out that there’s new information to consider from last Thursday’s federal and territorial budgets which include potential funding for municipalities.

Curteanu said she’d like to see the city look into the possibility of a smaller tax increase, given what taxpayers have told the city. More time should be given to that, she argued.

Others disagreed.

Coun. Mike Gladish argued Stockdale was provided with a fair response from city management and that money has not been allocated to prevent Mount Sima’s closure.

There’s already been a couple of months to review and bring forward changes to the documents, Gladish pointed out, proposing that the budget now be passed.

Irwin, meanwhile, said she’s been pushing for the city to look at potential revenue generation outside of property taxes for some time – to no avail.

“We have to get serious about this,” Irwin said. While she wasn’t happy with the budget, she added, she would vote in favour of it.

As Coun. John Streicker said, while a deferral would give council a chance to consider a number of factors, it would not provide enough time to look at possible revenue generation options.

Rather than be “pushed to the wire,” he said he would rather have the budget debated and voted on then as scheduled.

Council then voted down the deferral 5-2, with Stockdale and Curteanu being the only members in favour of putting it off another two weeks.

That left it open then for Cameron to propose his amendment, which would have seen the tax increase set at two per cent.

As Cameron explained, that would keep the hike in line with the cost of living.

He suggested the two per cent be put in place. Then, council could have a full discussion over the next month about whether there would be a need for a further increase, Cameron proposed.

Such a move, he suggested, would force the city to consider significant adjustments.

Like Curteanu, Cameron also pointed to the territorial and federal budgets and noted they need to be considered.

An increase in line with the cost of living is defensible, he added.

But, as Streicker pointed out, that would drop revenue coming into the city without identifying where it will come from.

“I think this takes some more involved discussion,” he said. If the city is to cut a certain amount from revenues, he added, there has to be a decision about what service may be cut.

Streicker also said he didn’t favour taking money out of reserves to lower the tax increase.

Gladish, meanwhile, described Cameron’s proposal as “smoke and mirrors,” and the city should pass this budget.

Over the next year, he suggested, the city can work on developing a budget that may factor in what council wants out of its budget.

Meanwhile, Mayor Dan Curtis noted his surprise at the suggestions coming forward that would see major changes to the documents.

“Quite frankly, I’m shocked,” he said.

A lot of hard work had gone into preparing the budget, added the mayor, who recently returned from France.

With inflation at two per cent and a plan to add evening transit service, he argued, a 3.83 tax increase is not out of line.

The city “runs a tight ship,” Curtis said, pointing to the work staff does to keep expenses down.

Like Gladish, he suggested it’s important to get on with the work of “governing the city.” Work on next year’s budget can begin immediately, he said.

Irwin echoed the same sentiments, suggesting council take the lessons learned from this budget and move forward.

With that, council defeated Cameron’s motion in a 4-3 vote, with Cameron, Stockdale and Curteanu voting in favour.

The three were on the other side of the vote when the $65-million operating budget finally came forward for second and third readings, voting against the documents.

Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Curtis again noted his surprise in the discussion.

He pointed out that Stockdale’s concerns had been addressed to all of council but it is his prerogative to bring it forward, he said.

He also pointed out that now the current council has an entire year to consider next year’s budget, which will be vastly different from this year’s experience.

“The timing wasn’t ideal at all,” he said, pointing out council was only elected last October.

Still, Curtis said he’s pleased with the spending plan which will be in place for 2013.

“I’m very proud of this budget,” he said. While nobody likes tax increases, he said, this budget was reached through a number of compromises.

As for Irwin’s suggestion that alternative revenue generation be seriously considered, Curtis noted that while there are options that could be studied, it’s often more easily said than done, and potential ramifications have to be considered as well.

A hotel tax, for instance, would impact the business community.

The mayor also responded to the discussion around the territorial and federal budgets.

The money the city receives from other levels of governments is required for certain programs, he said. Gasoline tax revenue funding, for instance, has to go to certain green initiatives and not into general city operations.

“It doesn’t plow our roads,” the mayor pointed out.

With the 2013 budget now passed, work on the 2014 document can begin, he noted.

CommentsAdd a comment

June Jackson

Mar 26, 2013 at 5:36 pm

The taxpayers in Whitehorse are so screwed.. when is it going to end? when whitehorse has priced itself out of anyone’s ability to live here?
Sima will get their money.. this council.. not good.

Elitist's pound sand

Mar 26, 2013 at 8:03 pm

OK folks budget, blah blah…! IMHO what is going on within the Royal’s hall with the nobles is how best to extract (via taxation sodomy)/deal with the lowly peasants (taxpayers) is optically with contempt. Quite honestly I STOPPED reading this after this line….“The budget adopted has no funding for Sima. Council and city management, however, are scheduled to discuss the matter at a meeting Wednesday evening from which the public will be barred.”
Excuse me? Given the history of this “ski hill” I say to you folks, WTF…O?
That should never be even thought of much less scheduled.
Folks, especially the legal brainiacs, I encourage you to download and study the rule book if you will…YG’s municipal act.
The laws of civic governance…and see if we can toss these folks outta office.

Back to the Sima sink-hole, really how long does it take to say No..No nonono…Naaaaaaa…NO?

Wayne

Mar 27, 2013 at 10:40 am

The CoW isn’t listening to us. Stop raising taxes. Just stop it. Stop it.  In future, the city wants to limit tax increases to the rate of inflation.  That will give this council, and all future councils, the right to raise taxes every year, in perpetuity. This isn’t a good thing. Taxation is an issue to be decided by taxpayers, not
city council. The city council’s highly paid minions most certainly should not be able to dictate tax policy.

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