Friday, November 24, 2006
Every good boy and girl heading a department at City Hall makes sure they get their wishlists done well ahead of time for fear city council will find them naughty rather than nice.
There are cameras for municipal enforcement vehicles for $15,000, high-volume colour copiers at $42,000, and computer software to run a new weigh scale at the dump for $75,000. Of course, like most people's mom and dad, there are stockings laid out for city councillors too, filled with such items as laptop computers for $30,000.
The thing about wishlists is that there is always something else to wish for. In 2005, the city collected some $39 million in revenue in property taxes, user fees and government grants.
Next year's budget presents the biggest wishlist of all. City administrators are hoping councillors will be wearing their Santa hats when they sit down next month to pore over the 2007/2008 budget, which rings in at over $52 million.
To check everything off on this list will require a 3.7 per cent tax hike - the biggest yet in three continuous years of tax increases. And if that's not enough, it will likely only grow in years to come. There are two more tax hikes on the way for 2008 and 2009.
City Hall mandarins aren't the only ones with Christmas wishlists. Facilities for Kids wants a sports fieldhouse in time for the 2008 Arctic Winter Games for $11 million minimum.
Friends of the Yellowknife Public Library want a stand-alone library. No cost estimate there just yet, although next year's budget calls for $935,000 to develop the Somba K'e civic plaza. The new library will likely be built even though the same budget also calls for nearly $500,000 in renovations to the existing library.
Strangely enough, one of the few departments looking at a funding decrease next year is Public Works, which is responsible for keeping streets paved and free of snow.
Almost all the councillors elected in municipal elections two months ago are new. Approving the 370-page budget will likely be the most daunting task they'll face in any given year.
It will be difficult deciding which items are absolutely critical, and which can wait another year, but it's important they review every item carefully.
People might not mind paying extra taxes if it means new goodies like libraries and fieldhouses, but their patience will run out if council glosses over a host of frivolities.
That is what's on top of taxpayers' wishlists - that council gets it right and doesn't waste their money.
For those of you who don't follow such things, Rankin Inlet came within a bad call of becoming Canada's hockey town this past year.
Although it didn't win, for the hamlet to go as far as it did in a national competition was impressive.
In fact, the blades didn't fall off until the contest reached the point where the shear number of people living in southern communities was enough to bury the upstart Kivalliq hamlet.
But, that's a topic for another day.
This year, Rankin residents seem more determined than ever to show their love for the sport, and what's been happening at the local arena for the past month has been nothing short of incredible.
About 200 people have been showing up four nights a week for Rankin Inlet Adult Recreational Hockey League games.
Trust me when I say - and not just because I'm a hockey guy - if you live in Rankin and haven't been taking in any of the games, you're missing out on a lot of fun.
A number of reasons are behind the success of the league this year.
First and foremost, behind Rankin's love of the sport, is the fact the four-team league is quite competitive.
There have been few blowouts and a number of games have been decided in overtime.
Secondly, Josie Kusugak has found a hobby during his retirement years. Kusugak has been behind the microphone and playing the tunes for a number of years during the Avataq Memorial hockey tournament.
And, these days, he can be found spinning tunes and announcing goals and penalties during rec action.
It may not sound like much to those uninitiated to hockey culture, but the atmosphere found at the arena most nights this year rivals that of many southern locales.
The wave of bouncing bodies and bobbing heads in the stands illustrates how much his contribution adds to the hockey experience.
Next up is the league executive, which has done a fine job in strengthening and promoting the circuit.
Executive members are hinting that even more fan-friendly surprises are on the way in the near future.
Finally, while there are some players and/or fans who may never admit it, the new standards being enforced by the officials are making the game more fun to watch.
That's especially true in recreational leagues that boast a high-calibre of talent, of which Rankin is one.
The game is faster, and more talented players now have the opportunity to show their skills without a stick blade pulling at their side or an arm wrapped around their waist.
Add up the number of championship banners in the community during the past few years, and you quickly realize Rankin has a number of players who can dangle with the best of them at this level.
The spirit and enthusiasm at the games this year are good for a healthy community.
In short, they're fun to be at.
And, with free admission, it's not like it will cost you anything more than your time to drop by and check it out.
There are many vices to succumb to in Inuvik. On any given night, you can find yourself among drug dealers, poker players, or bootleggers.
Maybe you think I'm digging too deep into the dark underbelly of our society.
The truth is that there are people in our neighbourhoods who engage in addictive activities every day.
Sure, some of the habits I spoke of are illegal, like drug use and bootlegging.
Others are just frowned upon, like obsessively playing bingo, poker or peel-back Nevada tickets.
From whichever angle you want to look at it, we are all guilty of addiction.
While some of you may argue that you aren't affecting anyone with your habits, think about these points.
Gambling is serious in town and has been for many years. Many people I have talked to confess to playing long nights of poker simply because there is nothing better to do.
Respectable adults spend their cash on peel-back Nevada tickets. They line up en masse to buy bingo cards.
While the proceeds from those games go towards community programs, I wonder if anyone ever loses sleep knowing that they have profited from another person's weakness.
Talk to someone you know who gambles their hard-earned money.
I'll bet, (no pun intended) that they are still "in the hole."
Oh mighty alcohol, you have seized more than your share of the population. Hell, even our youth seek your company.
It's true, alcohol affects everyone in town. Even if you're one of those "friendly" drunks who would never raise a fist, you may still be causing damage to the people around you.
Maybe you aren't hurting anyone on purpose, but I know people who offend anyone in earshot when they have had a few drinks.
Verbal abuse is the younger sibling of physical abuse.
They both can hurt and have long-lasting effects on a person.
I can't go forgetting about the "controlled" substances in town: the weed, the crack and other drugs that slip past the watchful eyes of the RCMP.
Drugs can be deadly. Some drugs can lead to an overdose, while others may lead to detachment from family and friends.
If I owned a hat, I would tip it to Howie Young, Ellen Smith and all the others who put together activities for the community for Addictions Awareness Week.
Only with education can we ever hope to rid our town of addictions.
On Dec. 10, 1948, the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted and proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
From that point forward, the declaration has been used around the world as the basis for the rights that every human being should have.
Article 25 of the declaration states that "Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care..."
When you think of human rights or the lack thereof, you normally imagine Third World countries, mainly in places like Africa.
But here in the North, there are people living without some of rights listed in the declaration -- namely housing.
The situation in the Deh Cho clearly isn't as desperate as parts of Africa where many people have no means of shelter at all or have only shelters made of flimsy material, but we certainly aren't living up to the line, "standard of living adequate to the health and well-being of himself and his family..."
Anyone who's been here for awhile knows that there isn't enough housing. In fact, even people who may have never been to the Deh Cho are aware of the housing situation because they've tried to find accommodations.
When Premier Joe Handley, the minister responsible for the Housing Corporation, attended a public meeting in Fort Simpson last week, he was bombarded by comments and problems related to the housing situation.
Nolan Swartzentruber, the superintendent of the Dehcho Divisional Education Council, pointed out that nurses come to him in their search for accommodations. The council, however, has enough trouble finding housing for their own staff.
Swartzentruber made a good point during his presentation. Even when housing is found, if a person isn't happy with their accommodations and, therefore, life outside of work, they certainly aren't going to be happy at work.
While teachers often only have to deal with the housing situation for one year, because they leave the next maybe due to their living arrangements, it's that much worse for local residents who consider the Deh Cho home.
In Fort Liard, housing has been an ongoing problem. Many residents can tell tales that sound like every homeowner's worst nightmare.
Others don't even have homes. Some people have been waiting more than two years while their houses have sat unfinished.
It's hard to point out exactly who's to blame. Partial responsibility can probably be shared by the Northwest Territories Housing Corporation and the contractors they employ. The answer, however, is clear.
The government needs to be held accountable for the housing conditions that Northerners are faced with.
People shouldn't be forced to deal with sub-standard housing.
Hopefully the new local board in Fort Liard will be able to sort through some of the problems in that community. If it works, similar boards should be used in other communities in need.
Danita Allaire took the Applied Mathematics 30 course at Aurora College in Yellowknife, not at Thomas Simpson school as was reported in the Nov. 16 issue of the Deh Cho Drum. The Drum apologizes for any confusion this may have caused.