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Vanthuyne lone opponent to budget
City passes 2.83 per cent property tax increase

Simon Whitehouse
Northern News Services
Published Friday, December 16, 2011

City councillor Cory Vanthuyne stood alone in his opposition to the city's 2012 budget after he refused to support an eighth straight year of property tax increases.

The budget, which includes a 2.83 per cent increase in property taxes, was approved Monday at the last regular meeting of the year.

"Although I see and feel that we are starting to make decisions that are taking us in the right direction fiscally, I am not convinced that as of yet we are all there," Vanthuyne said.

The projected budget expenditures were reduced marginally last week when councillors agreed to defer a planned 2012 citizen survey to 2013, which would have cost $30,000.

The budget calls for the solid waste levy to be increased to $14.50 in 2012 from $12 and another $2 increase in 2013. Tipping fees will also rise by 10 per cent in 2012 and another 10 per cent in 2013.

The budget includes $60.4 million in revenues, $61.5 million in expenditures and a capital investment of $17.9 million.

Mayor Gord Van Tighem insists the budget is not a deficit budget despite expenditures outpacing revenues.

"The differential is money carried over from 2011," he said. "The reason there is more in expenditures is because of various projects or pieces of projects from last year intended to be completed for 2012."

Six councillors voted in favour of the budget - David Wind, Bob Brooks, Amanda Mallon, Paul Falvo, Shelagh Montgomery and Mark Heyck. Councillor Lydia Bardak was absent.

Vanthuyne had a number of specific criticisms with the budget. He said the draft general plan is not financially supported well enough in the budget.

"Everything from parks, trails, streetscaping, to harbour plan initiatives to new transit are identified in that plan," he said. "The challenge is that I don't see the financial means in the draft budget to support the general plan. It indicates to me that we will be relying on developers and ultimately citizens to support financial costs of the general plan."

He called for further spending assessments to be done, greater restraint in hiring by the municipality and a better prioritization of capital projects.

The mayor and other councillors were in a more celebratory mood, given that the budget process had been stretched out over the better part of the year and saw a significant reduction of the proposed property tax increase.

Brooks said council was doing a great service in bringing forth the final budget.

"What was originally to be a five to seven per cent increase was brought to 2.8 (per cent) after line-by-line discussions (this year)," said Brooks. "Administration put a huge amount of work in synthesizing the public input we received and were able to take that input and understand council's vision as well."

Heyck described it as "a responsible budget."

With $1.1 million of inflationary pressures which led to increased expenditures, he praised the fact the city was still able to allocate $75,000 for new and enhanced services.

He also compared Yellowknife's 2.83 per cent increase in the context of other Western Canadian municipalities which saw property tax increases ranging from almost seven per cent in Brandon, Man., to four per cent in Saskatoon. Yellowknife's increase was low in comparison, he said.

He added that property taxes are generally a poor way of raising revenues and that this is why other cities have such increases. "It is always difficult to come forward with a tax increase," Heyck said.

Wind said he had "mixed feelings" about the budget, adding a big success was the city's ability to tie the budget to increases in the inflation rate.

"That provides some hope that tax increases next year can be contained also," he said.

Mallon and Montgomery said they were happy with a more inclusive and transparent forum for residents during the budget process.

"We didn't get a lot of feedback and I hope that is good news," said Mallon. "I think that comes from increased efforts to communicate and to include residents in the process."

Because the budget process began early and involved the public, Montgomery said it was a "very consultative and open process."

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