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Mayor Gord Van Tighem says climbing numbers in recent years are the result of some "conservative" accounting at the beginning of the budget period. - NNSL file photo

Councillors wonder where money goes

Mike W. Bryant
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Dec 03/04) - A city councillor with a cost-cutting reputation says he's not sure how to tame City Hall spending.

Coun. Alan Woytuik said some costs -- union contracts, utility rates, the new Multiplex arena -- are unavoidable, but it doesn't explain why spending and revenue exceed budgeted amounts.

"It's really hard to determine that when you're outside looking in, and you don't see the fine detail of day-to-day operations," said Woytuik.

"It kind of makes you wonder where this money is actually going."

At the start of this year, council budgeted expenditures of $38.3 million for 2004. It's now expected to exceed $42 million. Revenues, meanwhile, rose to $39.6 million from $37.9 million, putting the city on pace for a $2.6 million operating deficit.

In 2003, council had a surplus of $3.5 million. That year, the city budgeted revenue of $36.6 million but wound up with $47 million. Expenditures rose to $43.5 million from a budgeted amount of $34.6 million.

Next year's proposed budget calls for revenues of $38.7 million and expenditures of $38.3 million.

Administration is asking council to approve a budget that would see a 2.85 per cent property tax increase in 2005, followed by "similar" increases for 2006 and 2007.

Coun. Bob Brooks said he, too, is concerned about the apparent correlation in growth between expenditures and revenues.

"If there's instances of additional spending going on where we haven't approved it, then that's something council will want to look at," said Brooks.

"Council has asked that question before, but we haven't got to the point where we have that information yet."

Mayor Gord Van Tighem said the climbing numbers in recent years are the result of some "conservative" accounting at the beginning of the budget period.

"The previous budget philosophy was that if it wasn't a known it wasn't in there, even if it was something we were working on," said Van Tighem.

"This time, it has some adjustment for things that are very likely to happen... Pure accounting, unless it's known, written, documented, you can't say anything about it, (but) your reality is going to be different from that."

For example, in 2003, the city sold $7.2 million worth of land, money not anticipated in that year's budget. That helped push total revenues to $47 million.

Most of the money, however, is also listed as an expenditure because the city must pay for infrastructure when selling land.

Coun. Kevin O'Reilly said his main concern is ensuring city services aren't cut and would support a tax increase to make that happen.

He said city officials have told him they are proposing a number of cuts next year, although he couldn't say where.

"No one likes to pay taxes, but if you want programs and services, they have to be funded somehow," said O'Reilly.