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No tax increase next year but mayor ‘concerned’ by cuts

Yellowknife residents are no longer facing a tax increase next year after city councillors approved a revised 2016 budget.

On Monday night, councillors rubber-stamped a raft of changes made during deliberations last week.

Administration’s draft budget had called for a 2.87 percent tax increase, in part to fund a number of substantial projects. Most of those have now been cut and a tax increase is no longer required.

Among the items deleted by councillors:

  • A tourism kiosk for Old Town, saving $25,000
  • Solar panels, saving $160,000
  • Outreach work for a new Community Energy Plan, saving $20,000
  • Decreasing the 2016 IT budget, saving $36,400
  • Plans to temporarily resurface half of the fieldhouse, saving $190,000
  • Widening of the Frame Lake Trail, saving $180,000
  • Plans for a downtown splash park, saving $570,000
  • New “Cams Safety Link Status Keeping” software, saving $67,000

The revitalization of the 50-50 lot has been pushed back by a year, taking a further $1.6 million off the books for 2016.

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According to a news release published by the city late on Monday, this means the proposed tax increase has been “reduced to zero” for the coming year.

Background: Yellowknife soccer players query City’s fieldhouse plan

However, not everyone is entirely convinced by the end product.

Mayor Mark Heyck felt Yellowknife’s councillors had been hasty in making some cuts.

Heyck has long championed a splash park following presentations by local children requesting the addition of such a feature – but he said cuts to renewable energy projects and safety software were also troubling.

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“Some of the decisions made around the community energy plan projects, in particular, I think were a little bit rash,” said Heyck as Monday’s council meeting drew to a close.

“It was unfortunate that the solar panel project was cut from the budget. A significant amount of analysis goes into determining which projects to proceed with and which are going to have the best payback.

“One of the other things cut from that particular budget, which I think was unfortunate, was a community outreach component. There are now no additional resources to go out to the public, to the energy sector, to experts in our community, to see what they think of what ultimately – hopefully – will become our community energy plan.”

The energy budget, while cut in some areas, does include a seven-figure injection of funding for the city’s centralized boiler system project.

Heyck said the safety software, dropped in order to save $67,500, would have improved dispatch operations and helped to protect city staff.

The mayor agreed with the decision to drop plans for a new surface at the fieldhouse, but urged council to decide on 50-50 lot revitalization plans “sooner rather than later”.

‘Important components’

More broadly, he suggested the budget dwelt on public works issues at the expense of projects that could enhance Yellowknifers’ quality of life.

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“I’m pleased to see we’re making major investments in things like road rehabilitation, paving, water and sewer, work that’s happening out at our landfill,” said Heyck.

“But I will say that local government is more than just public works. It’s important to remember that. We provide all sorts of recreational programs and services; we own, operate and maintain facilities; there are public safety elements, economic development components.

“All these things are important components of creating a positive quality of life for our residents. Some attention is required to these other areas as we move forward.”

Heyck added that councillors could not continue to demand more work from administration while simultaneously cutting back on resources available.

And the splash park? The mayor says he’ll come back for another pass at that next year.

“I will once again advocate for a segment of our community that doesn’t always find a voice in this chamber,” he said, referring to local youth, “and has certainly made its voice heard in the past few days – emojis and all.”

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