Motion pulled
Request to cut spending back to drawing board

Cindy MacDougall
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Feb 16/00) - A councillor's request for all city departments to look at a 10 per cent cutback in spending caused an uproar during Monday's council meeting.

Coun. David McCann put forward and later withdrew a motion which would oblige departments to create a list of "innovative savings" that would cut spending by 10 per cent. The departments would have had one month to compile the lists.

McCann said the lists of cuts and savings would give councillors better information when making decisions on service cuts.

"We need to have more numerical information before we make decisions," he said. "The recent revisiting of the cuts to the library is a good example of making decisions without having all the information beforehand."

McCann's motion contended there is "evidence of variable effectiveness" in city spending, depending on the department, although he would not be specific during debate.

Blake Lyons challenged him to give examples.

"My colleague said he believed this to be true, but he needs to prove it. He has to show people with hard evidence," Lyons said.

After debate, McCann produced one example of wasteful spending when pressed by Yellowknifer.

"We use flat-screen displays at several computer terminals. A bowed screen costs about $300, giving a fairly good image, while a flat screen costs about five times that," McCann said. "This was pointed out to me by a resident."

He also argued Yellowknife's total tax burden must be eventually lowered for the good of business in the city.

"It will offer more value to our residents, lowering the cost of living and doing business, and make Yellowknife a more attractive, economically diverse place to be," McCann said.

Other councillors were quick to rip apart McCann's motion and question his intentions.

"What he's raised here is what we do in a budget," said Coun. Kevin O'Reilly. "That's what we did in November and December and I'm not prepared to do it."

Coun. Ben McDonald questioned just how upset city residents were with tax hikes and Yellowknife's cost of living.

"The tax revolt has been fabricated," he said. "Everyone wants their taxes reduced, but everyone wants the cost of toilet paper reduced. We have to look at the effect (of cuts)."

Other councillors were not as opposed to hunting for savings and cuts.

Robert Slaven said the motion's intent was good, but the timing was wrong. He suggested McCann's concerns should be dealt with in the 2001 budget.

"I believe we're not spending enough time on the budget process," he said. "We should start perhaps in June or July, giving council time to bring forward suggestions."

McCann withdrew his motion after Lyons suggested councillors sit down and discuss its merits and problems.

The recently elected councillor said he agreed councillors must work towards a consensus.

"I think in real terms this motion would have been defeated," he said afterwards. "But you can count on me being back.

"We did get a general agreement that we have to take a different tack on the way we budget."

Councillors' comments

Blake Lyons: "I think it has more land mines in it than Serbia, so I cannot support this motion."

Bob Brooks: "We always talk about cutting services. No one ever looks at expanding programs to make money. I believe efficiencies can be found in more than just cutting."

Robert Slaven: "If the magic tax fairy came into the room and asked our wish, and we asked to run programs without charging property tax, and poof! it was done, (Yellowknife) would still be 20 per cent more expensive than Edmonton."

Alan Woytuik: "I'd like to commend Mr. McCann for bringing forward this motion. I don't believe budget time is the only time we should look at savings."

Dave Lovell: "What I see as the main problem with this motion is it asks administration to do what it already does. Over the past few years, we've had cost increases but no service cuts. Administration has been finding more efficient ways to do things."