Reduce poverty, study the potential for a Northern university, and build a mountain bike park.
These are a few of the projects some Yellowknifers hope will get funding out of the 2018 city budget.
There weren’t enough chairs in city council chamber Monday night to seat everyone who came out to hear the various appeals for funding from the city.
There was a contingent of mountain bikers wearing grey T-shirts emblazoned with “operation bike park.” Another group wore matching red hoodies. All had visions for a more livable, active or artistic Yellowknife.
Most of the projects proposed Monday were in support of items already listed in the 2018 budget draft.
However, nothing in that document is certain yet, and council may cut or reduce funding to any program in order to bring down the proposed 5.64 per cent property tax hike.
Coun. Julian Morse told Yellowknifer on Tuesday he likened the draft budget to a wish list.
“When council goes into deliberations, lots of things get whittled down, cut, changed and added,” he said.
Monday night’s public engagement was one way for councillors to get a sense of projects that are important to residents.
Suzette Montreuil from Alternatives North said there are 225 people experiencing chronic homelessness in Yellowknife, and another 975 at a high risk of homelessness.
Rather than simply manage the symptoms of poverty, such as homelessness, Montreuil said an anti-poverty strategy could effectively bring down poverty in the city.
Such a strategy, she said, should cover food security, affordable housing, accessible transportation and jobs for people trying to reenter the workforce.
Eric McNair-Landry of Ecology North called on council invest in Yellowknife’s trail system so residents can more easily commute car-free.
“A wide variety of Yellowknifers use these trails, from people training to bike to Hay River, to infants being strolled in carriages. It’s safe from traffic, quite, quite scenic,” said McNair-Landry.
More people walking or cycling to work would also free up parking space downtown, he said.
McNair-Landry asked to council to go ahead with the draft budget’s proposal to put $300,000 toward an extension to the frame lake trail by the hospital, and $25,000 to develop a plan to increase connections among the city’s other trails.
Two representatives from the Yellowknife Mountain Bike Club asked for $50,000 to put toward the design and preliminary construction of a mountain bike park at Bristol Pit, with the club taking responsibility for operations and maintenance.
Cycling is a top recreational activity for adults and young people, said the club members, and a bike park could be year-round recreational hub and a tourism draw.
“All those kids like myself who were never that into team sports, they get a facility that’s really going to speak to them,” said bike club member Geoff Foster.
A representative from Team Art$ didn’t have a specific budget ask. Rather, he hoped council would commit to supporting the arts in Yellowknife.
Terry Pamplin’s long-term vision for art in the city includes a city-sponsored curator, a multi-purpose art space that could accommodate performances and exhibitions, and summer and after-school art programs.
“Art saved my life a number of times, and just that personal experience, I know it can save others,” said Pamplin.
Coun. Steve Payne said at the meeting two of his children are cyclists, but his oldest daughter is artistic. He said a strong arts community would be of value to her.
“I know without art, we have no identity, we have no culture, that’s our history,” he said.
Anastazia Miklosovic implored the city not to raise taxes and utility fees.
“Living in Yellowknife is getting quite expensive especially if they’re homeowners,” said Miklosovic.
Two presenters asked council to consider funding a feasibility study for Northern university with a campus in Yellowknife.
Stephanie Irlbacher-Fox, owner of Fox Consulting Ltd. And an adjunct professor at Carleton University, said a northern university would be a boon for the city and territorial economies.
She said there are a number of “fragmented” research stations all over the Northwest Territories, but no over-arching institution tying them all together.
“I can’t think of a Canadian university that doesn’t have a Northern program that gets tens of millions of dollars a year for Northern research,” she said.
“I would like to bring all of that home.”
Irlbacher-Fox said over the last two years she has received about $10.5 million in research grants that have been used to employ four to five people full-time. An entire faculty of professors could multiply the grant money coming into the territory and create even more jobs.
“We lose hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to southern universities, but if I could be a professor or an adjunct professor at a university here, they would come north, they would employ northerners,” she said.
Coun. Niels Konge said he would advocate for finding a location for a university campus in Yellowknife.
Morse said a Northern university is the “single biggest untapped piece of potential that this city has.”
Council will hold public deliberations on the budget Dec. 4 to 6 starting at 5:30 p.m. and adopt a final draft Dec. 11.