A proposed 8.48-percent property tax increase to pay for the City of Yellowknife’s 2020 budget will not come to pass.
After three days of deliberations in which council approved cuts in several departments, the increase to the property tax rate is now expected to be a more modest 1.63 percent.
Among the cuts are several part-time and summer student positions, fire and municipal enforcement equipment considered non-essential, and a paved extension of the Frame Lake trail.
“We’re giving the people what they want,” said Councillor Steve Payne. A one-percent tax increase is roughly equal to $300,000 in revenue for the City.
The new-look increase is roughly in line with last year (1.44 percent) and the year prior (1.86 percent).
In total, the tax – paid by those who own Yellowknife homes and commercial real estate – provides 40 percent of the City’s revenues.
“One third of the people in Yellowknife can’t afford their homes,” Payne said, referencing a November report that found 29.3 percent of the city’s homes were unaffordable for residents.
“I base my decisions on, not single people, but families that sometimes are really struggling to pay their bills. Not everyone makes 100 grand a year,” he said.
Mayor Rebecca Alty said she was comfortable with how the budget looked following the three days of deliberations. A fourth day of deliberations scheduled for Thursday was set aside.
“It’s really making sure that we’re focused on our priorities,” said the mayor, “and seeing if some projects need to happen this year or if they can be considered in future years.”
Cuts approved by council include deleting a proposed half-time booking clerk at the Fieldhouse, plus $100,000 in parks funding which will affect six to eight summer jobs.
While cutting these positions found support with council, Alty said more drastic cuts in wages for front-line staff – said to make up three-quarters of City Hall’s employees – would have undesirable impacts on services.
“They’re clearing the snow, they’re fixing the roads, water and sewer, they’re teaching the swimming lessons,” Alty said. “From the discussions I’ve had with residents, they’re not at the stage yet that they want to see pools or arenas closed early or that snow accumulates and isn’t cleared.”
An attempt to make permanent the City’s Indigenous relations advisor position, led by Councillor Stacie Smith, did not find support on council. The position, funded for 18 months with federal dollars, is now set to expire in February 2020. Council instead voted to allocate $50,000 in seed funding for projects once the City’s reconciliation action plan is finalized.
Council’s frustration spilled over several times at a perceived lack of funding for social issues from other levels of government. Councillor Robin Williams raised a motion – which didn’t gain majority support – to pressure the NWT government into funding Yellowknife’s street outreach program by decreasing the municipality’s contribution.
Alty reiterated the need for the NWT government to fix the gap in funding Yellowknife receives, raising the oft-cited figure of $11 million as the amount by which the City is underfunded annually.
“When we talk about those long-term plans of ensuring we have proper sewage and water, that’s where we really need the GNWT funds,” Alty said. “And then, of course, when it comes to the social issues, stepping up and being a partner on those is key.”
The budget is “not final till it’s final,” Alty added. Residents have until Monday to get in touch about the proposed changes. On Monday evening, council will vote to finalize the budget.