City council passed its 2020 budget Monday, but not without some flak over its cut to the Indigenous relations adviser position.
City councillor Stacie Smith, who made headlines the last few weeks in her effort to retain the Indigenous relations adviser position, said she could not support the budget after council refused to renew it.
“This year’s budget there were some great key points,” she said. “Some good efforts (were) made. However, because of the cat being let out of the bag in regards to Indigenous relationships, I’m not going to be giving my approval for this budget. I’ve spoken loud and clear in regards to my feelings about this.
“Other community members have also spoken loud and clear about their opinion about specific roles within the city and I am going to stand by that.”
The 18-month term position, announced by the city without a cost figure attached in 2018, was funded through Indigenous Services Canada’s Urban Programming for Indigenous Persons (UPIP) program. The funding runs out in February and the city has not found any other money to support it.
Smith’s comments followed a presentation by social justice advocate Arlene Hache, who criticized council over its handling of reconciliation efforts and refusal to find money in the budget to fund the position.
Hache said based on her 40-plus year career and experience working with First Nations, Inuit and Metis people, she felt it was her responsibility to let the municipality know it has to do better to “push forward on reconciliation.”
“I was incredibly, incredibly disappointed that the representatives of the city diminished the concerns that were expressed by Coun. Stacie Smith and Chief Ernest Betsina who really clearly indicated that the loss of the Indigenous adviser position was a huge loss in terms of relationship building,” she said.
“Without that Indigenous adviser position, this system will not transform. You can have as many projects as you want, but then you’re doing to Indigenous people, you’re not doing with.”
She noted that efforts toward reconciliation needs to be done with the guidance of Indigenous people from the area.
“If you don’t have that point person at the city, you are not transforming anything,” she said, noting her 50 years of experience of witnessing Indigenous people being told to stay quiet in board rooms and in government.
“I am here as a witness to let you know that if we don’t transform these systems, racism will continue to flourish in Yellowknife.”
“Being the only Indigenous person on this council can be very much be lonely and I recognized that when I took the position,” she said. “I am so grateful for community members like yourself who are putting yourself out there and speaking the truth after having for years experience working with rather than to. That is the best way of putting it and I appreciate you coming here so much.”
Coun. Niels Konge was the only other councillor to make a final statement on the passing of the budget, noting his support for the process overall.
I do have some concerns with it, principally being that one line item year over year with wages and salaries is actually about 3.6 per cent of an increase as opposed to the 1.63 per cent,” he said. “So our increase in wages alone is outstripping our tax increase. We can get away with it but it will come to cost us at some point.”
Budget debate wrapped up late last week after council managed to whittle down a projected 8.48 per cent property tax increase to 1.63 per cent. The budget was approved with expected revenues of $79,139,109, a debenture interest payment of $463,000, debt principal repayments of $1,658,000, expenditures of $92,125,010, which includes a capital investment of $22,020,000 and amortization of $14,943,000.
Deneen Everett, executive director with the Yellowknife Chamber of Commerce said her organization has been following deliberations closely once again. She said she was pleased with the results this year and said she thought the final property tax rate was a “reasonable” figure for residents.
“It really was what we wanted to see because the high cost of living and the high cost of doing business is continuously the top issue for our membership,” she said. “It is good to see a very thoughtful discussion has brought down (the property tax percentage).”
Debt principal repayments: $1,658,000
Debenture interest payment: $463,000
Amortization (annual depreciation of assets): $14,943,000
Expenditures: $88 million
Revenues: $75.5 million
Debt principal repayments: $1.6 million
Debenture interest payment: $515,000
Capital investment: $20.4 million
Amortization (annual depreciation of assets): $14.6 million
Property tax hike history:
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