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Yellowknife budget threatens 8.4 per cent tax hike

Sharolynn Woodward, City director of corporate services speaks to Councillors on Monday. Nick Pearce / NNSL Photo

Yellowknifers could pay hundreds more in property taxes next year.

The first draft of the city's 2020 budget was made public Monday and features an 8.4 per cent property tax spike.

It's now up to councillors to decide if the proposed changes are "palatable" or if the city must look to reduce services, Mayor Rebecca Alty told reporters.

The increase is driven in part by slate of service charge increases, which staff describe as consistent with past budgets. Solid waste management would see a three per cent increase across the board over the next three years, and water and sewer would see 3.5 per cent increases over the next two years, before dropping to three per cent the year after.

From left to right Mayor Rebecca Alty, Cons. Shauna Morgan, and Cynthia Mufandaedza hear presentations on Monday.
Nick Pearce / NNSL Photo

"Facilities and programs" would also see a three per cent increase each year for the next three years.

"Do we have to cut here to add there?" Alty said, adding that councillors will meet with constituents to determine their priorities moving forward. Asked about her goals facing the increase, she said she would look to "multi-solve (and) fix two problems with one solution. But to really dig into the details of it will take some time."

"It has been one of our higher increases recently," she said, encouraging residents to access a municipal property tax calculator.

Should the city go ahead with a new pool, for example, or put it on hold?

However, capital expense projects are funded from multiple sources, so even a major expense such as this doesn't have a direct effect on the city's property tax rate.

But it all adds up.

With this in mind, councillors will have to ask "where can we cut service levels? What can we do without?" the city's director of corporate services, Sharolynn Woodward said.

Putting capital projects on hold could reduce the potential tax increase, but council still has to find enough money to run the city in 2020. Those costs are outlined in the city's operating budget.

"Right now if we were to do all of those things, we (would) need to increase taxes by the rate that they're talking about," Woodward said.

Councillors will face "difficult decisions" as they look to cut costs or face sticker shock, Woodward said during her presentation.

"Absolutely there's sticker shock with that figure. We anticipate that, we understand that," city administrator Sheila Bassi-Kellett said, adding that the staff would generate options for council to choose from as it decides "what we can stomach as a community."

There's several financial pressures facing the city. Among them is the roughly $40 million funding gap that communities in the Northwest Territories say they are owed by the GNWT. Yellowknife accounts for about $11.4 million of that shortfall.

Core services like water, sewers, fire protection, roads and sidewalks also add to the total. Then the goals and objectives of council members are also factored in – a councillor may lobby for more municipal enforcement, or more frequent garbage pick up – on top of initiatives like addressing legal cannabis and the carbon tax.

Sharolynn Woodward, City director of corporate services speaks to Councillors on Monday.
Nick Pearce / NNSL Photo

Facing these demands, Woodward said every one per cent tax increase roughly breaks down to an additional $300,000 in revenue for the city.

Read a complete breakdown of the proposed budget in Wednesday's Yellowknifer.