Mark Rendell
Mark Rendell

City Budget 2016: In Search of No Tax Increase

A tax-averse council chops multiple items, including the mayor's cherished splash park and any action on the 50/50 lot for now.
Coun. Julian Morse on slashing the splash park:  “I had a hard time falling asleep last night. It wasn’t an easy decision.”

After two days of intense budget cutting, city council has turned the previously proposed tax increase into a slight tax decrease. Property taxes were slated to go up by 2.87 percent according to the draft budget, but by Thursday night council had brought this down to a 0.98 percent decrease. The numbers aren’t final yet, and it’s likely that they will creep back up to a zero-percent increase once a chunk of money is allocated to water line repairs. The budget will be finalized at Monday night’s council meeting.

Clearly the NWT’s increasing economic uncertainty was front-of-mind as council decided to reign in the budget. They cut or deferred the following capital projects, amongst other things:

 • A tourism kiosk in Old Town: $50,000

 • Solar Panels on Fieldhouse roof: $50,000

 • Multipurpose floor in the Fieldhouse: $190,000

 • Resurfacing the Frame Lake trail: $180,000

 • Splash Park in Sombe K’e plaza: $570,000

 • Deferred Fire Safety house until 2017: $100,000

 • Deferred work on the 50/50 lot until 2017: $1.6 million

50/50 postponed

Given the opportunity to get the ball rolling on the 50/50 Plaza Plan or slash the controversial project altogether, council chose the middle ground – deferring any decision on the project until next year’s budget, and shifting the project’s three-year funding timeline back a year.

“I feel before we take this on, before we commit any funds to this, we need to decide whether or not this plaza is the way to go,” said Coun. Adrian Bell, who introduced the motion to defer the project. “There aren’t enough objectives that we’ve truly considered… there’s [the idea for] an art centre or library, but there’s also selling half of it to the mall for parking, or discounting it and selling it to a developer for condo development, with retail on the main floor.”

All councillors except Coun. Shauna Morgan supported the deferral.

“I definitely think more works needs to be done on the details, but I think allocating some money this year to go ahead with design based on all the feedback we’ve got so far could push us ahead and get us to take real action on this,” she argued.

By not funding the project this year, it’s unlikely we’ll see any movement on the space until 2018 at the earliest, given the time it takes to do detailed design once funding is approved.

“Council kind of needs to determine the macro vision,” said Jeff Humble, director of planning and development. “If [council wants] a library for example, or a cultural centre on the 50/50 corner, then the design would work around that, if it’s decided that can go across the street or at another location and you wanted that as a plaza, that also sets some parameters.”

Earlier in the week, Humble spoke about how much interest in the project there is from the REITs that own the mall.

“They have put some funds towards the interior portion of the building, so they said they wanted to focus on that. But they did mention potentially some of the exterior façade components, for example putting in some fenestration or some windows… [and] they were starting to express interest in having some outdoor patio aspects and liquor sales and so on outdoors.

“They have always at least supported in concept the principle of design, but we have yet to get into a formal MOU [memorandum of understanding], and I think we need to get some further direction from council to firm those things up,” Humble added. “One of their big questions is what the City is going to do about social issues.”

In January, council is expected to receive the results of the public consultations on a potential library on the site, which took place over the past month, as well as a second report from consultants.

Council douses the splash park

Despite a strong push by Mayor Mark Heyck, the $570,000 splash park, proposed by a group of Yellowknife kids, didn’t make the cut. For the vote Heyck traded places with Coun. Rebecca Alty to weigh in on the discussion, even reading a letter he’d received from a child excited at the prospect of a new watery playground. But council wasn’t having it.

“I felt that at this time, our city is not in a position to pay for such an expense,” said Coun. Julian Morse who proposed to kill the project on Wednesday night. “I had a hard time falling asleep last night. It wasn’t an easy decision. I felt horrible… Sometimes you do have to make tough decisions, but that’s what we’re elected to do, it’s not fun telling kids they can’t have what they want, but a parent wouldn’t tell their kids they can have everything they want either. I mean, we need to live within our means.”

“I was getting a lot of emails about how it doesn’t make sense now, especially as we’re in a winter city,” said Coun. Rommel Silverio. “If they’re going to propose a new pool, I think it would be a good feature for the new pool, indoor. But with what’s happening in the economy, we need to tighten our belts.”