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Town of Hay River passes 2024 budget of $17.6 million

Glenn Smith, senior administrative officer for the Town of Hay River, says the town is still $88 million short of its needs for capital projects. Photo courtesy of Thorsten Gohl

The Town of Hay River has officially passed its budget for 2024.

Council unanimously approved the $17.6 million document for this coming year on both operations and maintenance and capital spending during its regular meeting at town hall on Monday evening. That’s an 8 per cent increase from 2023, or nearly $1.3 million.

An increase in budget usually means an increase in property taxes, but there was no answer was given on how much of an increase there would be.

Abena Nyarko, the town’s director of finance, told council that the GNWT was working on property assessments for the town and they should be ready by the end of this week.

Following that, she said assessments would be mailed out to residents by the end of next week.

Of the $17.6 million the town expects to take in, it plans to spend around $15.3 million, nearly $1 million more than last year. The largest expenses for the town this year include salaries, wages and benefits ($5.49 million), materials and supplies ($4.27 million) and contracted and general services ($2.9 million).

Glenn Smith, the town’s senior administrative officer, said the reason for the increase in spending is simple: inflation.

“Increases that are coming in our collective agreement for salaries, utility costs, services and supplies, increased interest rates and capital costs,” he said. “It’s no different here than the rest of the country.”

Smith also said the town is still working on several projects around flood and wildfire recovery, including shoreline protection on the West Channel, the rebuild on Lift Station 1 and wildfire break enhancements.

Another bone of contention for Smith was how the budget was impacted by funding for communities from the GNWT, or lack thereof, specifically when it comes to capital costs. The budget document estimates that the town’s 10-year capital plan is underfunded by $88 million, or $8.8 million per year.

Broken down, the shortfall includes $20 million for the new water treatment plant and $17.7 million for the Sundog land development project. An estimated $7.7 million is needed to help build the new town hall, while work at the the dump is short $3.8 million.

The golf course also needs $3.3 million to complete its work.

Smith says those deficits simply cant be addressed through town fees and taxation.

“I think it’s imperative that council lobby our new (territorial) government for corrections to municipal funding,” he said.

That would mean speaking to Vince McKay, the new Minister of Municipal and Community Affairs and the MLA for Hay River South.

Coun. Keith Dohey agreed with Smith’s sentiment, saying it’s a new year and a new budget, but the same story as the town remains underfunded, just like every other tax-based community in the NWT.

“I know there are some things in the works, but I know it’s not going to get us all the way across the finish line,” he said. “I’m hoping that our new cabinet, new government – our new minister once sat at this table, my friend, the minister, used to pound his fist on his desk about this (funding) issue quite frequently. We’re going to make sure he doesn’t forget all those times that he was on this side and I hope we can move the ball further toward the end zone.

“Every year seems to (put us) further and further behind.”

— By Amanda Rumbolt