Last year, city administration proposed a 5.64 per cent property tax increase for 2018. If approved, it would have been the largest tax increase since 2010. User fees, charges for solid waste and water and sewer were also slated to go up. City council managed to whittle the tax increase down to 1.86 per cent by eliminating or deferring several projects. Mayoral and council candidates, were asked: what comes first — higher taxes or higher user fees? Answers will be posted as we receive them.
Niels Konge, city council candidate
Ha, neither, it is a balance, some things should have higher user fees so taxes don’t go up for the masses, other times the opposite. You need to look at this holistically.
Robin Williams, city council candidate
I'm a firm believer in keeping taxes as low as possible for Yellowknife's residents. One of my goals if given a mandate, is to maximize the upcoming tourism levy and a potential vacancy tax to offset the tax burden to the individual resident. User fees are are my preferred form of taxation.
William Gomes, city council candidate
In my position, I would like to keep both sides remaining the same. Our country as a whole is currently under great financial distress and economic downfall. Our salary increments are way below matching our current inflation rate in Canada (4.8% per CPI). When commodities today are costing us more than ever and especially here in North, I strongly believe that we should not increase the taxes or the user fees.
Bob Stewart, mayoral candidate
Higher property tax is preferable to user fees. Property owners are in a better financial position to contribute, and user fees tend to be prohibitive to using city services. I am not in favor of raising either but cutting expenses instead.
Cynthia Mufandaedza, city council candidate
Neither one, I certainly understand that no taxes would mean no services, however Yellowknife residents and small businesses are struggling in our current economic downturn and should not be burdened by higher taxes or higher user fees from the municipal level. I believe we need to support the people of Yellowknife by keeping their taxes down. If we control our city spending, we can keep taxes down.
Julian Morse, city council candidate
It's not that simple. Generally, we should seek to achieve cost-recovery of services where possible, but there are some situations where this isn't practical. I support lower user fees for lower-income families, seniors, and children, which needs to be compensated for elsewhere. I think most Yellowknifers are happy to pay a bit more if they know it means more people have access to our facilities and services.
Rommel Silverio, city council candidate
Yellowknifers are challenged with the high cost of living. This is the reason why many people choose to move to places where cost of living is more affordable. To attract more people to live and stay here, we must try to combat high taxes. I prefer higher user fees over higher taxes. For example, a resident who chooses not to use a facility because he/she is saving some money to fund his/her basic needs should not be burdened by further higher taxes as a result of maintaining that facility that he/she chose not to avail. The people who choose to use the facility should pay the fee. I think it is a good idea to explore the possibility of reducing fee offerings through some flex pricing strategies such as lowering fees during downtimes or low seasons.
Jerald Sibbeston, mayoral candidate
I am not comfortable with either. Yellowknife's main issue with growth is that there isn't any new land to to grow into. We also need to get behind our tourism industry and grow our economy. You cannot tax your way to wealth, only poverty. We are on that path to poverty and stagnation. It must stop to protect our homeowners and families investments in this city. Don't give up, please! We can make this a place of great opportunity beyond what it is presently. Tourism will provide entry level jobs to all of our citizens. A low tax environment for our citizens will encourage them to stay! I vehemently oppose a "land transfer tax" the GNWT is ordering, and it is a tax on Yellowknifers. It is contrary to everything I believe in. There has never been a government that has taxed it's way to wealth.
Mark Bogan, city council candidate
I am not comfortable with either. The cost of living within the North is high enough, specifically for elders and young families.
My plan includes reducing frivolous expenses while avoiding increases to the above mentions.
Edwin Castillo, city council candidate
I’m not in favor of higher taxes although we should look into new kinds of taxes such as an accommodation tax that is not uncommon in other jurisdictions to raise revenues. I am more agreeable to higher user fees but only if the quality of services is provided and maintained for the users based on regular satisfaction surveys and feedback.
Adrian Bell, mayoral candidate
I’m not comfortable with either if they are rising faster than the rate of inflation. The last two councils have managed to keep tax increases to less than 1% per year for six years. That’s pretty good, but fees have climbed at a higher rate. Council must seek ways to operate our fee-for-use services and facilities more cheaply.
John Dalton, city council candidate
Through our facilities, citizens young and elderly help build a strong and united healthy community. Our fees are already fairly high and some groups and team sports find it difficult to cover rental cost. Taxes are required and you cannot keep taxes at zero increases for long. As a councillor you have the responsibility to set priorities and to ensure cost-effective spending before going to the tax base for more funds. I have seen areas of misspending and I have all kinds of concerns on some planned activities or lack there of. This budget process should be interesting.
Stacie Smith, city council candidate
Higher taxes affect home/property owners. Marginally increased taxes are an area that can be investigated, as I am a home owner, I am capable to pay the costs however, if we increase user fees this can increase animosity between users and the city as they can feel they are being ripped off, especially in a tine of financial struggle.
Shauna Morgan, city council candidate
It can be a tricky balance; no one loves paying either taxes or user fees. I support the overall policy approach the city currently uses to balance them. We generally follow a user-pay philosophy, with some important exceptions. Our Access for All program ensures free access to recreational facilities and public transit for low-income families. We offer discounted rates for seniors and children, while adult rates are supposed to match the cost of operating the facility. For facilities that are significantly more expensive to operate but critical to community wellness and vibrancy, like the indoor ice rinks or the pool, we have been subsidizing rates a bit further to make sure people can still afford to use them, and I support that approach.
Dane Mason. city council candidate
It’s not an either/or issue. Tax revenue comes from two main things: the tax rate (mill rate) that the city sets for property classes, times the value of those properties. By encouraging development, we can increase the average property value, thereby increasing revenue for the city without raising the tax rate.
Something as simple as taxing abandoned lots more so they’re sold to developers, updating the secondary suites bylaw, and making a few changes to the development incentives program would make a cleaner, safer city and reduce the need to raise the tax rate as it would be marked to healthy growth rather than rate hikes.
Rebecca Alty, mayoral candidate
My goal is to keep both reasonable and within affordable reach of our residents. I want to make sure that tax revenue is funding core services first and foremost. There is also a need for the development of a long-term financial plan that will provide a financial path forward.
With user fees, I would like us to find efficiencies in our service delivery to keep them reasonable and make sure that we’re delivering services at the right level. Acceptable service levels are those that meet the needs of most of our citizens. When it comes to recreational facilities increasing the number of users (revenue) is in my opinion better than increasing the fee (which could actually lower revenue).
Chris Gillander, city council candidate
If user fees become too high we will discourage the use of facilities or services. This will cause a deficit in revenue that will in turn have to be made up. A price point must be found to maximize revenue from the user fees, and the remainder would inevitably be paid by taxes. Setting prices too high or too low on user fees will ultimately cost tax payers more as it would create less income for the city and would lead to more taxation.
Terry Testart, city council candidate
Josh Campbell, city council candidate
Neither. We need to open the books, stop putting the tax hike on our small business sector, and stop taxing our low income families. Most of the issues surrounding taxes falls on the federal government, who've failed to address our high cost of living in the North. And again the GNWT needs to fund the city adequately. Almost half of the territories population lives here. Per-capita funding needs to come from the GNWT coffers.
I would lobby for a zero percent tax increase for residents, and revisit the corporate/business mill rate. We must advocate for small business and create and environment that allows free market enterprise and entrepreneurs to start up. We have too many empty store fronts, and too many vacant stores in our malls.
Steve Payne, city council candidate
I’m not comfortable with either.