Yellowknife city council’s 2020 budget deliberations saw its first casualties Monday night.
Facing a possible 8.5 per cent tax increase, council is doing a line-by-line review of the city budget, cutting as they go. At the first of four straight nights of review, councillors nixed $400,000 from the budget, scrapping a $330,000 Frame Lake Trail extension and a $75,000 space study of City Hall.
The space study was supposed to determine the best use of office space at City Hall, and council voted unanimously to cut it.
The Frame Lake Trail vote was more split. Coun. Julian Morse, Shauna Morgan, Robin Williams and Romero Silverio all opposed the cut, while the rest of council supported it. Mayor Rebecca Alty cast the deciding vote.
A downtown parking garage study sparked debate as Morgan, Coun. Steve Payne, Williams, and Rommel Silverio tried to cut it. Despite the contentious debate, the study survived the discussion.
According to Konge, addressing downtown parking could be a path to spur development. Saying “now is the time,” he argued the city is already in the business of parking and a new structure could free-up land.
Coun. Stacie Smith defended the study on the grounds it aligned with broader downtown revitalization efforts.
“We’re going to have a lot of downtown merchants downtown who are going to be displeased with not seeing work put forth to try and boost the economy,” she said.
Payne said concern from other taxpayers would outweigh the merchants, especially as the city tightened its belt. Williams took a similar stance, expressing concern with ordering a $75,000 study as the city cut costs.
Other line items, while not cut, served to surprise councillors with their hefty costs.
For one, a $640,000 cost to refurbish City Hall’s main set of stairs prompted Coun. Steve Payne to remark on the cost.
“Can we get less of a Cadillac and more of a Pinto?” he asked about the required $367,450 which would join $272,000 in carried over funds.
“I have no words,” he said after hearing the total amount.
Speaking to the total cost, Senior Administrative Officer Sheila Bassi-Kellet said it “boggles the mind, but yes.”
It didn’t, however, boggle Konge’s mind. For him, the money roughly equalled the large amount of work needed to step-up the stairs. “It’s not fun work at all,” he said, adding that the stairs aren’t currently up to code.
Coun. Julian Morse asked if it would be possible to scrap the stairs entirely, and reconfigure City Hall to be more accessible, “considering that’s it going to cost three quarters of a million dollars … to refurbish a staircase?”
Ultimately, council settled along the lines of Mayor Rebecca Alty’s response to Payne: if the city wanted stairs, it will need to pay the price.
“It just seems like we have no choice,” Morse said.