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Tax hike 'a possibility'

Budget predicts $230,000 shortfall

Nathan VanderKlippe
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Dec 19/01) - Shortfalls in the city's 2002 operations and maintenance budget could lead to increased taxes or user fees, say some city councillors.

NNSL Photo

A budget shortfall could mean waste collection rates rise to $13 a month. Bruce Hamilton rummages for wires at the dump. - Nathan VanderKlippe/NNSL photo

Coun. Blake Lyons called a tax increase "a strong possibility," but cautioned that on matters like this "you can never predict with 100 per cent accuracy."

Released Monday, the 170-page draft document predicts the city will come up $230,000 short next year in its general fund.

But, said deputy mayor David McCann, that only amounts to half of a per cent of the city's total $43.7 million budget, and rate increases should not be an option.

"From my perspective, no way (on tax increases).We should know how to save half a per cent in order to come in without having to raise taxes. The hunt is (on for) where we shave this budget," he said.

The shortfall comes from many reasons, including planned staffing increases, post-Sept. 11 insurance hikes and inflationary costs in the price of fuel and electricity.

City staff, who found themselves early in the budgeting process with a forecast $1.5 million shortfall, saw that number fall by $800,000 with lowered debt servicing fees for 2002. That was followed by another $470,000 in cuts, to arrive at the current deficit projection.

Finance director Robert Charpentier said staff are preparing a priority list of services to present to council in January.

McCann said an increase in efficiency should make it possible to cut costs while maintaining or improving services.

This budget is also the first to virtually eliminate territorial funding from its operating budget. That allows the city self-sufficiency, so any cut in GNWT funding should not dramatically affect services.

"We're not unlike any other type of business, where we are always facing increased costs," said Charpentier.

Garbage hike possible

According to Charpentier, a more serious problem lies with the solid waste management fund, which is predicted to come up $400,000 short. Changes in accounting processes, and a plan to pour an additional $135,000 into recycling initiatives, could mean a 30 to 35 per cent increase in garbage collection fees. That would mean monthly garbage collection costs would rise from $10 to $13.

Although council took a first glance at the budget last Thursday at a special in-camera session, any talk of rate increases is still speculation, since the budget has not yet been passed. Taxes rose 3.7 per cent in 1999, but were chopped two per cent in 2000.

Before that happens, public consultations will be held at a special council meeting Jan. 7. The final budget vote is expected Jan. 21. This is the first time the city has created a three-year budget, which allows councillors to examine 2002 spending figures in the context of longer-term goals. It is also the biggest budget in years, with an additional $10 million for the new arena.

NNSL Photo

By the numbers

The 2002 city budget is a comprehensive document that includes not only specific details on financial allocations, but also a number of performance indicators. The following is a sampling of Yellowknife by the numbers:

Projected cost per curb kilometre:

SOURCE: City of Yellowknife 2002 operations and management budget.