Mark Rendell
Mark Rendell

City Brief: More Money for YK, Less for Communities

Community funding gets an overhaul, in an attempt to reflect real, on-the-ground needs

The City of Yellowknife is set to get a $2.5 million bump in federal infrastructure funding over the next five years following a major rejig of municipal funding across the NWT.

Yellowknife will also be eligible for a $12.9 million one-time federal grant for a piece of infrastructure that has to be finished before 2022.

The numbers aren’t huge by infrastructural standards. For example, the total replacement cost for city-owned buildings is just short of $130 million. “Hopefully, it will be enough money to put towards a pool or something like that,” said Eleanor Young, assistant deputy minister of the GNWT’s department of municipal and community affairs.

Over the last year, as Young told city council at Monday’s Municipal Services Committee meeting, MACA has been working out a new way of allocating community funding. It’s the first such policy revision since 2007.

“We need to move towards a more needs-based approach to funding for all communities,” she said. “The formulas need to be linked so there’s some relation between the capital you have on the ground, and operations and maintenance funding you receive.”

One major change is how gas tax funding – the federal money given to the GNWT to dish out to the territory’s 33 local governments – is distributed. Yellowknife’s funding is set to rise from the current rate of $4.519 million a year to $5.272 million by 2017/18. After that, the amount will increase by two percent every second year.

Councillors present at Monday’s meeting seemed uniformly pleased with the increase.

“The City of Yellowknife’s water treatment plant is shown here as a $31 million asset, and it was troublesome for our city at the time to take on such a high cost asset on our own,” said coun. Cory Vanthuyne. “So now to see a formula such as this being presented for virtually all our infrastructure assets is very promising to see, and I hope that we can move forward on this.”

Across the territory, 12 communities will see a drop in gas tax funding, while the rest will see an increase. The biggest loser is Fort Resolution, which will drop $547,000 over the next five years; closer to home, Dettah is set to lose $385,000 between 2014 and 2019.

$40 million shortfall

As part of the funding revision, MACA also calculated the total amount the GNWT needs to funnel towards municipal governments in order to replace aging infrastructure and cover operations and maintenance costs.

“Based on the current calculations, we’re looking for just under $40 million a year [in additional funding] to be able to fund all communities based on this needs-based approach,” said Young.

MACA hasn’t officially asked the GNWT to add the $40 million to the budget, and Young doesn’t expect it “to come in one fell swoop.”

“We know it’s a difficult time within the GNWT fiscal framework, so it’s something we’ll put on the table. As to where it comes from, that’s their decision to make, [as well as] how much of it to come up with at any given time,” said Young.

Because it’s an election year, the first increase in MACA funding would not likely happen until the first budget of the new assembly, expected around June 2016.