Yellowknife city administrators have abandoned plans to create some new positions at City Hall as lower revenue and increased costs are forecast thanks to Covid-19.
On Monday, corporate services director Sharolynn Woodward told the mayor and councillors a “cloud of uncertainty” caused by the pandemic meant the city must be prepared for anything from a complete shutdown to resumption of “full and unfettered operations.”
As a result, Yellowknife’s draft 2021 budget focuses on core services like water, sewer, fire and ambulance, alongside continuing city programs and services while adhering to public health orders.
Among proposed cost-saving solutions is a recommendation that no new positions be created.
City administration identified a number of areas where spending could be reduced, bringing down expenditures by $457,809.
Previously, at least six new jobs had been identified for creation. Woodward said that kind of spending “might not be palatable” to residents during the pandemic.
Woodward said the proposed new positions included a development and lands officer, two emergency dispatchers, an equipment officer, a works maintainer in the roads and sidewalks division, and an asset management support employee.
City staff also wanted to extend a safety officer position for two years and turn a part-time administrative assistant at the fire hall into a full-time post.
Councillor Julian Morse said he would like to see the development and lands officer position kept in the budget, highlighting the department’s workload and high turnover rate.
Morse said the city’s ambition of spurring economic development means development applications need to be dealt with in a “timely fashion.”
$1m drop in facility user fees
Other cost-cutting measures in the draft budget include saving $49,037 on travel expenses, $40,000 on insurance premiums, and $29,215 by foregoing work on a governance strategy for the mayor and council.
Those savings alone won’t offset an estimated $1,189,449 increase in operations and maintenance expenditures. That includes an increase of $49,000 for new emergency medical dispatch software, $51,620 in overtime costs, and $35,200 in tax relief.
Lost revenue during the pandemic is forecast to include an estimated drop of $1,065,000 in facility user fees, $50,000 in interest, $80,000 in lottery licences, and $30,000 in business licences.
By contrast, there will be an estimated increase of $21,000 in property tax revenue and $57,000 in public safety revenues.
The budget anticipates $15,846,032 in capital investment – the kind of spending that involves construction and infrastructure. Expenditure in that column includes $1 million toward replacement of the city’s water supply line, more than $4 million for other water and sewer infrastructure, and $581,000 for improvements to accessibility.
City administration estimates a $1,189,449 increase in operations and maintenance expenditures.
Mayor Rebecca Alty noted those costs don’t include money coming in through grants and outside funding.
For example, 75 percent of the cost of replacing the water supply line is covered by federal funding the city has already been granted.
Residents prioritize parks, rec, roads
A survey of residents’ budget priorities between late August and early September received 155 responses.
Priorities identified by those residents included parks, recreation, and roads.
Given those results, Councillor Shauna Morgan said she would like to see trail projects move up the city’s priority list.
The proposed 2021 budget is not set in stone.
“Budget 2021 is still evolving,” Woodward said. “We are now putting in the finishing touches and will be working in as many cost savings as we can.”
Members of the public can give presentations to mayor and council about the budget at council meetings scheduled for October 26 and November 16.
Deliberations on the budget will begin on November 30, with mayor and council expected to approve a final budget on December 7.