Yellowknife budget update: fare thee well, Freddy the Firetruck

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Two days into budget deliberations, the 8.5-per-cent tax increase in the first draft of the document has been cut significantly.

Councillors head back into talks at 5:30 p.m. this afternoon.

The debate is live streamed on the city’s website.

Tuesday night saw councillors further trim costs, including cutting some summer student positions with a $100,000 reduction to the parks budget. One of those other items was reducing the budget by $15,000 to cut Freddy the Firetruck, a children’s engagement tool designed to give high-fives, and promote fire safety and prevention.

“It may sound silly, but there’s a point to it. … There’s a fire prevention message. You start to engage people in silly ways when they’re very young and hopefully they carry that as they get older,” Eric Bussey, director of public safety, told council Tuesday, adding that there were other ways to engage youth.

Coun. Julian Morse saw value in the engagement, reflecting on fire department outreach last year that led him to update safety measures in his home. Someday, those tools may save someone’s life, he said.

If Freddy the Firetruck achieves something similar, Morse saw the value in it.

Coun. Cynthia Mufandaedza had a similar experience, where her children shared fire safety information, which also could potentially save lives.

“I don’t know if we can put a price on saving lives,” she said.

Coun. Robin Williams agreed that these were important values, but didn’t see Freddy the Firetruck as essential to these efforts. Mayor Rebecca Alty, meanwhile, said an actual firetruck youth could climb around in with accompanying fire fighters could also engage them.

Council voted to leave Freddy the Firetruck behind, with Morse and Mufandaedza opposed.

Equipment designed to catch vehicles sporting radar detectors similarly saw the door, cutting $8,000 from the budget.

“I haven’t seen a radar detector since Guns ‘N’ Roses released Appetite for Destruction,” Coun. Steve Payne. “I don’t know if we really need to have this piece of equipment.”

Morse, however, noted the $8,000 savings would have a minimal impact on taxes, which Payne disagreed with, saying even small efficiencies should be pursued.

Coun. Niels Konge questioned the volume of vehicles using radar detection, and thinks Municipal Enforcement Division resources would be better suited to monitoring speeding in school zones.

The motion passed, with Morse opposed.

Street Outreach discussed 

Williams suggested lowering funding to the Street Outreach program to $120,000, to be accommodated with increased support from upper levels of government. Morse, however, was concerned about impacts to the program,  which is run by the Yellowknife Womens Society.

He was concerned the program would be lost as result of “a political move.”

Meanwhile, the program has a van nearing the end of its life, and has asked the city for help replacing it. Council opted to direct $50,000 from the downtown development reserve to support the purchase.

“For me, discontinuation of the program is a non-starter,” Morse said, before Payne added his support to Williams’ motion, which was defeated by the remaining councillors.

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