‘No room for bells and whistles’ in Yellowknife’s 2023 budget
The City of Yellowknife has promised a “tight and frugal” 2023 budget, with next year’s projected tax rate due to be announced in November.
During last year’s budget deliberations, municipal staff forecast a 2023 increase of around 10 percent in property taxes. That would be on top of the nine-percent tax hike residents faced this year.
Much has happened since that estimate was made. The 10-percent forecast did not take into account the crises of spiralling inflation and energy costs that have subsequently developed, partly as a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
In a presentation to city councillors on Monday, director of corporate services Sharolynn Woodward said the budget would have to balance those concerns with positive factors like the return of tourism, development of the city’s aquatic centre and progress toward a new university campus.
“It will be a difficult balancing act because Budget 2022 already called for a 9.69-percent tax increase next year,” Woodward said, “and that was before the volatility and the pressures introduced by recent global events.”
According to Woodward, the forthcoming draft budget for 2023 will argue that the city needs more staff in asset management, dispatch, human resources and environmental compliance.
The city’s perceived emergency dispatch needs usually prove controversial. Staff at the NWT government, which introduced 9-1-1 territory-wide several years ago, have argued the municipality needs to spend more time relying on the NWT’s service and less time growing its own dispatch service.
Yet the municipality keeps coming back for more dispatch resources, only to find council uninterested.
For the past two years, Yellowknife councillors have removed funding for new emergency dispatch software that city staff had attempted to insert into the annual budget.
This year, staff will be pitching to a fresh council. Budget deliberations don’t begin in earnest until after a new council is elected in mid-October.
More broadly, Woodward insisted the 2023 draft budget’s expenditures will be as low as staff can go.
“We’ve sharpened pencils and done everything possible to bring forward a tight and frugal budget. There simply aren’t a lot of highlights,” she said.
“The operations and maintenance budget will be very much a stay-the-course set of recommendations. We know utility costs will increase, as will the costs of general materials and supplies. Essentially, there is not a lot of room for bells and whistles.”
The draft budget is due to be made public and discussed by council on November 7, followed by public presentations in response on November 21.
Several nights of detailed deliberations take place in early December before a confirmed budget – and tax increase, if any, for 2023 – are approved on December 12.