Shane Magee/NNSL photo
Yellowknife senior administrative officer Sheila Bassi-Kellett, shown in April, says a change to an ambulance fee will take effect next year to allow the GNWT time to budget for the increased cost.

A new trade agreement between provinces and territories could make it easier for the city to buy goods and services locally, within certain limits.

The city is drafting a local purchasing policy with further details expected to come to council before the end of the year. The idea is to make it easier for local businesses to receive city contracts when competing against southern bidders.

Such a policy will have to comply with the new Canada Free Trade Agreement. The agreement allows municipalities to enact protectionist measures if bids are below certain thresholds for goods, services and construction projects.

The thresholds are $300,000 for goods and services and $7.5 million for construction. Under the previous internal trade agreement, the thresholds were set at $100,000 for goods and services and $250,000 for construction.

The city isn’t permitted to favour local businesses over southern-based business for spending above these thresholds.

“Any tender that the city wants to do that’s under the threshold, they have complete discretion to do as they see fit as long as it meets their internal policies, if they have anything,” said Alexandrea Malakoe, business and trade officer with the Department of Industry, Tourism and Investment, in an interview last month.

The territorial government sought the increases as part of the trade agreement negotiations and the limits will be adjusted with inflation.

Coun. Adrian Bell had called on the city to investigate a local purchasing policy after a city businessperson raised concerns about the city buying a fire truck from a southern business.

The NWT and Nunavut Construction Association said in 2013 the city wasn’t doing enough to ensure work stays in the North after the $30-million contract for the new water treatment plant was awarded to a southern company.

Eighty-three per cent, or $35 million, of city spending was locally spent last year, according to data provided to councillors. That’s above a five-year average of 77 per cent.

The Canada Free Trade Agreement was finalized last month and comes into force in July. It is meant to liberalize trade between provinces and territories, setting up a mechanism to reduce barriers to trade. The agreement does not cover alcohol.

Ambulance fee hike

The city plans to significantly increase the fee to transport a person to or from medevac flights starting next year, a change that would see the territorial government spending more to cover the cost.

The city charges $475 for medical transfer calls, which also includes moving a patient from a nursing home to hospital or vice versa, plus a charge of $75 per hour if the ambulance needs to wait.

There were 1,177 medical transfers in the 2015-16 fiscal year, according to the Department of Health and Social Services.

The fee will increase to $700 at the start of 2018, $900 in 2019 and $1,100 in 2020.

The delayed start in the fee hike will allow the GNWT to plan for the cost in its budget, according to the city’s senior administrative officer, Sheila Bassi-Kellett.

Coun. Shauna Morgan floated the increase in December to cover the cost of providing the service. The added revenue would help cover the cost of hiring four more firefighters in July this year to deal with increasing medical calls in the city, many to deal with intoxication issues.

“I think the phased-in approach sounds like a reasonable approach and I’m glad we’re doing it,” Coun. Julian Morse said Monday at a municipal services committee meeting.

The change is among many proposed as a bylaw amendment, including a three-per cent increase to group rental rates, lesson charges, equipment rental and admission fees at city-owned facilities like the Ruth Inch Memorial Pool or other recreation facilities.

The fee changes still need council approval at an upcoming meeting.

City marks capital birthday

Monday marked the 50th anniversary of Yellowknife becoming the capital of the Northwest Territories.

“Happy 50th anniversary, Yellowknife,” Mayor Mark Heyck said at a municipal services committee meeting.

The Carrothers’ Commission, formed by the federal government over concerns about how the region was governed, recommended the city be named capital after visiting 51 communities between 1965 and 1966.

Yellowknife was proclaimed the capital on Jan. 18, 1967, with it taking effect May 1.

A city staff report states anniversary celebrations began Monday and will last a year. The report didn’t specify particular events, though council was told an ad was placed in News/North on Monday.

A page of the city’s website will also mark the celebration.

Coun. Rebecca Alty asked what the budget is for the celebrations. She was told by senior administrative officer Sheila Bassi-Kellett there’s no specific budget line and money will come from exiting budgets.