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Budget preview

Councillors draw their lines in the sand

Jorge Barrera
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Nov 30/01) - With budget debate a little over a month away, city councillors are already talking taxes.

"I think there is going to be a need for a tax hike or service cuts if council continues to spend money and initiate new programs," said Coun. Ben McDonald.

NNSL Photo

Highlights for 2002:

- arena construction: $7.5 million

- The city needs to hold a plebiscite to borrow $1.4 million for road improvements next year, $1.25 in 2003 and $880,00 in 2004.

- Replacing city's software: $500,000 (The city's computer systems are outdated and costing around $100,000 a year to maintain.)

- Smart Communities project is $250,000. A key component of this project is the installation of kiosks around the city were citizens can make their tax payments and other city business.

- Phase two of a new water treatment plant: $35,000 (This money is to develop an action plan and pilot project.

The city hopes to build a new water treatment plant by 2007 at a total cost of $5.1 million.)

- Temporary lift station for Niven Lake subdivision to service new lots: $150,000

- Constructing infrastructure to service new Niven Lake lots: $682,000

- Library expansion and renovations: $141,000

- Yellowknife Arena parking lot repairs: $50,000

The possibility of tax hikes or service cuts for next year is real and councillors are drawing their lines in the sand on the issue.

Councillors Dave McCann, Alan Woytuik, Dave Ramsay and Robert Hawkins want to hold the line on taxes no matter what.

"My priorities are to maintain the level of services provided to the community without increasing taxes," said Woytuik.

Ramsay wants to trim the excess "fluff" from the budget and McCann wants the city to focus on efficiency and creativity in handling finances.

McCann said it's time for the city to focus on giving taxpayers the best "bang for the buck."

Coun. Robert Hawkins is toeing almost the same line.

He believes council needs more access to the final decisions outlined in the draft budget.

"We don't have enough contact with the budget," said Hawkins.

Councillors Wendy Bisaro, Kevin O'Reilly and Ben McDonald want to leave the tax increase option open if it means kick-starting the $2.2 million development along the waterfront, improving downtown -- still in draft stage -- and setting up the new $1.5 million waste management strategy.

For Bisaro, the mantra of efficiency is a red herring.

"My personal belief is that there is not a lot of credence to the notion of a lot of excess fat in the budget," said Bisaro.

"Yeah, you could buy two less pencils but I don't think large savings are there. It's pretty lean."

McDonald doesn't see taxes as sacrosanct.

"I think council has an obligation to provide services the community wants and we have to implement a budget that accomplishes that," said McDonald.

"I think people believe that Yellowknife has a bright future and that we should be investing in it," said McDonald.

But the no tax-hike councillors are taking a critical look at some projects the city is considering.

The most contentious is the waste management plan which will cost the city around $1.5 million over the next 20 years but save the city around $2.4 million over the same time and increase the life of the dump.

The city is mulling over the hiring a waste management co-ordinator at a salary of $70,000.

"I've never been sold on having a waste co-ordinator," said Ramsay.

Coun. O'Reilly, a main backer of the plan, said the environmental impact of the strategy exceed the financial gains.

The city publicly released its $18.2 million capital budget Monday and is planning to release its operations and maintenance (O&M) budget on Dec 10 --which includes the new waste management strategy.

The city will debate the budget early in the new year beginning with public input on Jan. 7.

McDonald said he's not looking forward to budget time.

"It's a difficult time," said McDonald. "Specially if you support public services."

"It's probably one of the worse things in the year. It's the most emotional and tense," he said.

Council will be debating a three-year budget.

In 2000 the city spent $6.033 million in capital funds.

The city is projecting $9,019 million in capital spending this year.

Capital budget breakdown