At a committee meeting this week, Yellowknife city councillors, in Canada’s Northwest Territories, will begin officially discussing the city’s draft 2020 budget and its proposed 8.5 per cent property tax increase.
The budget proposes almost $100 million in spending on operations and capital projects, including one project that may be a focus of the budget review — a new $50-million aquatic centre.
“It’s an interesting project that appears to be split on people that want it and people that don’t,” said Yellowknife Mayor Rebecca Alty.
The design recommended by an advisory committee would be more than twice the size of the existing 30-year-old Ruth Inch Memorial Pool. It would include a 52-metre lap pool with six lanes and a separate 20-metre leisure pool with water slide, waterfall, lazy river and other water features.
A 20-person hot tub, sauna, two 90 square metre multipurpose rooms and a canteen are also part of the design.
Other capital projects proposed in the budget include:
- $450,000 for work on the McMahon Frame Lake Trail.
- $367,000 to repair the front steps to city hall.
- A million dollars toward the replacement of the underwater pipeline the city draws its drinking water from.
- $595,000 to replace the ice plant compressors, fix a troublesome electrical panel and institute an ammonia safety system at the multiplex.
When city council begins reviewing the budget in earnest in the first week of December, the focus will be on bringing the 8.5 per cent property tax increase down.
“In talking to residents since the budget’s been released, a lot are saying they don’t have an appetite for that increase,” said Alty. “So now it will be going through and trying to find where we can find the savings.”
Tax revenue up dramatically
The city’s tax revenue has been growing dramatically in recent years. If approved, the proposed 8.5 per cent increase would give the city 31 per cent more in tax revenue than it collected in 2015.
Total revenue projected in the draft budget (including user charges, land sales, investment income and government transfers) also represents 31 per cent over 2015.
During the same period, the city’s population has grown by fewer than 100 people. Why does the city now need 31 per cent more revenue than it did five years ago?
“It hasn’t grown in population size, but it has grown in infrastructure,” said Alty. “So the fact that we have Grace Lake now, we have Hall Crescent [newer subdivisions], those are houses that have roads that need clearing and repair, there’s the water and sewer that needs to be maintained.
“We’ve got regulations from the other orders of government that have required us to get a bigger water treatment plant, and the bigger water treatment plant comes with increased operating costs for fuel and electricity.”
Other additional costs include the city’s contributions toward the day shelter, outreach van and other services associated with addressing homelessness in the city.
Alty said, contrary to common belief that as the number of homes in a city grows the tax burden on individual homeowners will decrease, developments such as Grace Lake, which is home to some of the most expensive homes in the city, increase the burden on taxpayers “big time.”
That’s partly because of the additional snow plowing, road and sewer maintenance, and public subsidization for the trucked water those homes use. Despite the additional cost to taxpayers, the city is still selling lots at Grace Lake.
Alty and some councillors will be setting up a table at the Co-op grocery store Saturday afternoon to gather input on the budget and whatever other issues people wish to discuss.