After a last-minute series of amendments that cut expenditures and transferred more money into capital reserves, city council unanimously passed a $75.5 million budget with a 1.44 per cent property tax increase, Monday night.
But council was mindful that bigger projects lay ahead for this term that may cost ratepayers more than what they’ve been used to in previous years. A decision on a new aquatic pool, a new water intake line, and the potential replacement of the fire hall are all projects that remain on the horizon.
City councillor Niels Konge introduced an eight-point series of amendments that saw further budget item reductions whittled down to a zero per cent tax increase. He then proposed a property tax increase of 1.44 per cent – an equivalent of $447,000 in tax revenue – to go into capital reserves.
Council did a line-by-line vote of Konge’s proposals and approved all of them.
Although council had spent about a week in nightly line-by-line readings of the budget, Konge said he came away from those reviews wanting to see further revisions. He consulted with most councillors and came up with the reductions, with strong support from Alty, he said.
“I think there is definitely a feeling in Yellowknife that it is certainly not high times,” he said. “It is more buckle-your-belt and get-through times. I felt the budget on the general government side should reflect that.”
He said he remains concerned with the pace of general government spending, pointing out that if the city proceeds with a new and larger pool, it will include the need for more money for staffing.
Next year, for the first time in the city’s history, city council is expected to deliberate on a budget with expenditures at more than $100 million — $122 million to be exact.
Preparing for coming capital projects with proper funding is important, said Konge, adding he felt his proposal was reasonable.
“I’m sure I will get a lot of flak about coming forward with a 1.44 per cent when we had it at zero,” he said. “But I think when every household knows that big items are coming, you tend to save to get there.”
Items Konge introduced included reducing city grants by $40,000, which passed with Couns. Julian Morse and Shauna Morgan opposed; reducing the expenses of one referendum by $15,000, which passed unanimously; reflect savings of $2,000 for whistleblower software, which passed unanimously; reducing the city’s street outreach investment by $120,000, which passed unanimously (with the exception of Morgan who declared a conflict as a Yellowknife Women’s Society member); reduce ball diamond upgrades by $45,000, which passed with Morse, Morgan and Coun. Stacie Smith opposed; reducing wildland fire mitigation by $50,000, which passed with Morse and Morgan opposed; reducing the MED bike rodeo/dog towing event by $30,000, which passed with Smith, Morse, and Morgan opposed; reducing the Development Initiative Review by $40,000, which passed with Smith and Morgan opposed; and direct administration to find $28,000 in additional operations and maintenance cost savings, which passed with Morse, Smith, and Morgan opposed.
Council then approved unanimously a 1.4 per cent tax hike, equivalent of $447,000, to go entirely to capital reserves.
Senior Administrative Officer Sheila Bassi-Kellett said it was a positive move for city staff to see investments in the capital fund to prepare for coming expenses, especially since there was no money put into that fund last year.
“Having a capital fund that is preparing us for the future projects that we anticipate coming in 2020 and beyond is a very important thing to do,” she said. “It is always very prudent and part of our budget policies that we are putting money aside and that we will have funds available for infrastructure requirements that we have — whether replacement or establishment of new.”
Coun. Morgan said it is important for councillors to remember that having a successful budget does not just mean cutting as much as possible and spending as little as possible. It is more important to focus on ensuring the city remains “an effective and efficient organization” that continually improves on service to citizens through things like programming, infrastructure and asset management over time, she said.
“There has been some discussion in the media about why we are spending more now than five years ago or 10 years ago,” she said. “But the truth is that the city has been working hard to make things more inclusive, more accessible, safer, more convenient. We have upped our game and we have improved our standards. We should be proud of all of these things. I’m proud we are spending more money now than we did 10 years ago if we are ultimately serving people better and we’re offering better outcomes.”
Budget 2019 at a glance
Expenditures: $88 million
Revenues: $75. 5 million
Debt principal repayments: $1.6 million
Debenture interest payment: $515,000
Capital investment: $20.4 million
Amortization (annual depreciation of assets): $14.6 million
Property tax increases
2019 – 1.44 per cent
2018 – 1.86 per cent
2017 – 1.23 per cent
2016 – zero per cent
2015 – zero per cent