In what some councillors called a “tight” and “bare bones” budget, city council passed Budget 2021 on Monday with a provisional 2.5 per cent property tax increase attached.
A final rate won’t be tallied until council reviews the mill rates in the spring. However, a 6-2 majority supported the property tax increase with a transfer of taxes to the capital fund of $1.124 million.
Mayor Rebecca Alty, councillors Niels Konge, Julian Morse, Shauna Morgan, Cynthia Mufandaedza and Stacie Smith all voted in favour of the budget.
Councillors Robin Williams and Rommel Silverio were opposed.
The final vote came following four nights of budget deliberations last week that included $644,941 in capital reductions. Among the big-ticket items removed included a $75,000 study on the future of the Ruth Inch Memorial Pool. Council decided to defer the costs of that study to next year, pending the outcome of the aquatic centre referendum in the fall.
Other items included $255,000 deleted from asset management work and a $300,000 fire hall generator.
The 2.5 per cent tax hike represents a significant drop from the 11.92 per cent presented to council in early November.
Coun. Steve Payne, who moved the initial motion for the increase last week, said he had done so as a compromise between lower and higher tax rate options proposed by administration.
He wanted a moderate tax rate increase that would also keep a transfer to capital as high as possible and which will help sustain a more stable tax rate over the coming years with major capital projects expected.
The capital fund is expected to reach $21.8 million at the end of 2021, however, that sum is anticipated to quickly be depleted due to items such as a $4.5-million new cell at the solid waste facility in 2023 and $9 million and $21 million in capital investments required for the water submarine line in 2024 and 2025.
“In four or five years from now we expect that the capital fund is going to be down to $1.47 million,” Payne said. “So, obviously we’re going to be needing it and I just thought that this was a fair and responsible way of dealing with it.”
Coun. Robin Williams, who supported a 0.89 per cent tax increase option last week that would have seen $615,050 transferred to the capital fund, said he was “puzzled” with the process of cutting capital projects only to put the money into savings while “not earmarked to any project.”
“I’m still sort of lost on the rationale to transfer more from tax revenues into (the) capital fund, more so than what administration had requested based on their 10-year capital plan,” Williams said.
Other councillors, like Shauna Morgan and Julian Morse, shared Williams’ sentiment, but said the issue wasn’t enough for them to oppose the budget.
“I feel that this is not the year, everyone has been struggling,” Morgan said. “It’s been a difficult year for everyone, businesses, in particular, with Covid and so I feel that it’s our responsibility this year, of all years, to keep the tax increase as low as reasonably possible. I think we did have a reasonable solution without needing to add an extra cushion into the savings fund or to put extra savings away for a rainy day.”
Senior administrative officer Sheila Bassi-Kellett said the city wants to find the right balance between addressing short-term and long-term needs and be prepared with increased capital needs coming over the next decade.
“We want to save up and we want accrue funds towards major projects that we have, that we know are coming,” she said.
GNWT funding confirmed
On Monday, Jay Boast, spokesperson with the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs, told NNSL Media that promised GNWT funding of $855,000 to make up for past shortfalls in municipal funding from the territorial government and $130,000 for a street outreach program would indeed be delivered to the City of Yellowknife. Council and staff expressed discomfort last week due to not knowing whether that money would come to fruition.
Expenditures – $90,933,022
Revenues – $82,061,410
Debenture interest payment of $409,000
Debt principal repayments of $1,711,000
Capital investment – $19,004,059
Amortization – $15,558,000
Property tax hike history
2021 – 2.5 per cent
2020 – 1.63 per cent
2019 – 1.44 per cent
2018 – 1.86 per cent
2017 – 1.23 per cent
2016 – zero per cent
2015 – zero per cent