Yellowknife city councillors deleted $400,000 in future spending during the first of four nights reviewing the 2020 budget in detail.
Stripping back spending comes in response to City Hall staff suggesting an 8.48-percent property tax increase is needed to cover all of the programs and services requested.
On Monday, councillors questioned staff on the budget line by line with several items coming to a vote. While three more evenings of budget deliberation will follow, Monday's four-hour meeting resulted in the removal of a $75,000 City Hall space study and $333,000 in funding meant to extend the Frame Lake trail behind the new Stanton Territorial Hospital.
A motion brought forward by Mayor Rebecca Alty got majority support to shelve plans to connect the Frame Lake trail. Alty argued the trail is a great recreation and nature trail, not a commuter trail. She said it would be a better idea to work with the NWT government to improve the path from Quiznos to the Frame Lake trail, which is on Commissioner's land.
On Tuesday, councillors will consider another option raised by Alty: removing $4.8 million of the $9.6 million in next year's budget for the construction of the aquatic centre. This portion, which comes from the gas tax rebate, could then be used for debt repayment, Alty said.
(The aquatic centre was discussed at a meeting earlier on Monday. Some councillors want to reconsider refitting the existing Ruth Inch Memorial Pool, or building a smaller 25-metre pool, to save money on the currently planned 52-metre new build.)
On Monday night, some items were swiftly passed – such as a $250,000 allocation for sewer upgrades. "Nobody wants to talk about poop?" said Councillor Niels Konge. "Nope, it's a good thing to control," Alty responded.
Other line items, including how to fix City Hall's steps and whether to study parking downtown – spurred animated discussions but were ultimately kept in the budget.
'Pinto version' of steps
Repairing the steps leading up to City Hall's main floor could cost more than $640,000, a price tag that left one councillor shaking his head.
Currently, $367,450 in 2020 capital funding is budgeted for the work, as well as carry-overs worth $272,000. “It’s a lot of money for a set of stairs ... Can we get less of a Cadillac and more of a Pinto version?" Councillor Steve Payne asked.
City administrator Sheila Bassi-Kellett said staff had already brought forth the "most modest" of design proposals received. Thinking $200,000 would cover design and construction, Bassi-Kellett said staff were "taken aback" by the quotes contractors provided.
Councillor Niels Konge, owner of building firm Konge Contruction, said the proposed cost was not surprising given the "horrible and risky" work involved.
"It is a lot of money but it's also a lot of work," he said. "I know taking off an inch or two of concrete and making it a bond it is not fun work at all." Konge suggested putting the tender out before the summer and proactively contacting more contractors in the hope of securing more competitive bids.
Councillor Julian Morse asked whether removing the stairs completely, instead creating an entrance to City Hall on the first floor, was a "crazy question." Bassi-Kellett said removing the stairs would be "kind-of hard to imagine."
The full amount for the steps' refurbishment ultimately remained in the budget, with Bassi-Kellett telling councillors the City would "maximize the procurement process."
A $75,000 parking structure feasibility study will also remain in the budget, despite significant debate. The study will evaluate whether the City should plan and construct multi-storey parking on a City-owned lot. In turn, the parking structure would free up downtown land – currently used for parking – for development.
Shauna Morgan's motion to remove the parking study was supported by Payne, Robin Williams, and Rommel Silverio, but was voted down by the majority of councillors.
Other 2020 capital projects discussed included:
- $595,000 in ice plant upgrades at the Multiplex, including the installation of an ammonia safety system. White said the City has only had one ammonia incident at the Multiplex, in the early 2000s, which didn't involve the discharge of the substance or impacts on staff safety. It is, however, an ongoing concern in the recreation industry – particularly after a deadly 2017 leak at an arena in Fernie, BC.
- $87,000 for the Parker Park outfield development. While the project, when finished, will result in a longer season, it will affect the adult slopitch league next summer. White said meetings are scheduled with this group in early 2020.
- $250,000 in City funding, plus $750,000 from a federal grant, for the latest phase of work replacing the City's ageing water supply line from the Yellowknife River.
Budget committee meetings are open to the public and will continue on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday at City Hall, starting at 5:30pm each day. Cabin Radio will report on highlights from each session.