Yellowknife council got its first glimpse at Budget 2021 on Monday and, as it stands, the city is proposing to increase property tax rates by 11.92 per cent.

Councillors and Mayor Rebecca Alty assured media and residents during the meeting that the tax increase is expected to be whittled down to a smaller figure by the time the draft budget is revised and passed on Dec. 7.

Last year, council pared down a proposed 8.48 per cent tax hike to 1.63 per cent after three days of deliberations.

Although this year’s extraordinarily high figure may appear “tone deaf” and “daunting” to residents who have been suffering financially from the pandemic, senior administrative officer Sheila Bassi-Kellett said the initial projection is in line with what municipalities across the country have been initially proposing.

Sharolynn Woodward, director of corporate, pictured here in 2018, gave council its first  glimpse of the draft 2021 budget.
NNSL file photo

“We do know that the 11.92 per cent proposed increase reflects a year with little or no assessment growth,” Bassi-Kellett said. “So this is a really good reminder to all of us that development and construction of new buildings benefit us all by contributing more tax revenues that serve to keep tax rates lower.

The NWT Legislative Assembly is reviewing a supplementary appropriation bill this week and MLAs are expected to vote on whether the city will receive additional Covid-19 funds.

“They’re also bringing forward extra funding for community governments who are currently underfunded,” Alty said.

The mayor noted that the city didn’t account for that money in the budget because the total is unknown. She added that for every $315,000 of additional revenue, it means a decrease of the property tax figure by one per cent.

Covid shaping the budget

Sharolyn Woodward, director of corporate services, said the Covid-19 pandemic has been a prominent influence on the city’s budget.

Woodward stated that capital projects are expected to jump significantly in 2022 and 2023 due to expenses related to the proposed aquatic centre.

Although no money will go toward the pool in 2021, $16 million and $15.3 million are earmarked for the following two years.

Expenditures and revenues

Total expenditures are projected to be just over $92 million while revenues are expected to be $82.5 million.

Woodward said the 11.92 per cent property tax figure represents what the city sees as necessary to maintain all of its operating costs.

“Administration is bringing this tax increase forward because it is a realistic and transparent reflection of what it will take to sustain the current levels of service while at the same time working towards council’s goals and objectives.” she said.

Woodward also presented options that council may look at in the coming weeks to make the tax rate more palatable for residents. Among them are eliminating all travel costs and reducing meeting costs, postponing the citizen survey, removing the capital area committee operations allocation or eliminating the annual 2021 transfer to capital.

Woodward said that council could also look at “a pending strategy” that would see major projects delayed to every second year.

“While this could create some mid-to-long-term maintenance challenges, it would reduce property taxes and address the workload pressures on staff.” Woodward said.

Council could also consider adopting a water and sewer strategy that would allow for maintenance to take place every alternating year from a paving strategy, she suggested.

Coun. Niels Konge, first elected in 2012, called it “one of the most interesting budgets in my time as a councillor.”

He noted that Covid-19’s impact on revenues particularly with lower-than-usual user fees and charges has only compounded the greater likelihood of council needing to consider a higher property tax.

He said low property assessments and the lack of development would have had an impact on what the budget even without the pandemic.

“Part of the challenge is figuring out what revenues are for 2021,” he said. “Typically we would look at the  previous year and make some basic assumptions moving forward. Then use those numbers in our budget…

“Even if we didn’t have Covid, we would have been looking at a substantial tax increase. We have very little increase in our assessments at 0.26 per cent.

“I think it is important for us to understand what little to no development has for our residents.”

The public will be invited to make public presentations on Nov. 16, prior to council beginning budget deliberations on Nov. 30.

Simon Whitehouse

Simon Whitehouse came to Yellowknife to work with Northern News Services in 2011. Simon obtained his journalism education at Algonquin College and the University of Ottawa. Simon can be reached at...

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  1. The working man goes down the road bedraggled in never ending dept brought on by paper pushers, like our ledge.