Mark Rendell

Council Briefs – Dec. 1: Fastball league asks City to play ball for upgraded park

Organizations take last crack at funding requests before budget deliberations start Thursday

Over a dozen fastball players packed council chambers on Monday, many sporting jerseys and caps, to ask the City for help sodding the Tommy Forrest Ball Park.

The dusty diamond has been rated the territories’ worst field by the Green Diamond Project association, said Yellowknife Fastball League treasurer Andrew Stewart, and it’s “certainly not a place where you want to dive for a ball.”

The project would cost around $87,000, said Stewart, and the league’s hoping the City will chip in $60,000.

“We’re not expecting a complete hand out for this to happen,” he said. “We’ve got on the order of $26,000 in fundraising and donations committed … we’ve got a very able-bodied workforce that can contribute to installing, and we’ve got access to heavy equipment.”

He suggested the project “is an opportunity to showcase greenspace and an active community lifestyle,” adding the park is used by around 75 members of the fast pitch league and around 100 kids aged 4-16 who play in the Tim Horton’s Learn to Play program, as well people from other groups like the Dog Agility Club.

The league, which has a co-maintenance agreement with the City, has already spent $20,000 repairing the pitch over the last several seasons, putting up more netting and installing new dugouts that don’t fill up with water.

Several of the councillors commended the group for their maintenance and thanked them for bringing the issue forward.

As Coun. Phil Moon Son pointed out, recreational sports seem to be changing, with traditional sports like hockey declining in favour of baseball and soccer. “It’s really challenging the traditional ways that municipalities fund recreational infrastructure,” he said.

There was some concern about sinking money into grass, only to have it destroyed by winter frost and over-eager players starting too early in the season.

“It’s hard to say what exactly the condition the sod might be in when we turn around in June and start to practice on the field…that would be a bit of a question mark we’d have to address,” admitted Stewart.

Though he said the league would be happy to delay their use or temporarily move to another location “if indeed we could get grass on the field.”

Chamber of Commerce wants no tax increase

As Monday was the last public consultation session before budget deliberations start Thursday, the Yellowknife Chamber of Commerce took the opportunity to plead for no tax increase in the coming year.

If the budget gets passed as drafted, Yellowknifers are looking at an average tax increase of around 2.98 per cent next year, which equals roughly $56 in municipal taxes for the average residential property owner (based on $300,000 average home price) and around $190 more for owners of commercial/industrial properties worth $500,000.

Jason McEvoy, President of the Yellowknife Chamber of Commerce, noted the amount of taxes expected in 2014 is 61.4 per cent higher than the amount collected in 2004 – $24.7 million compared with $15.3 million. And this happened while the population of Yellowknife has only increased by 319 people, or 1.6 per cent, in the past decade.

“We understand that there are inflationary pressures, however, with a stagnant population this burden falls on residents and businesses of Yellowknife,” said McEvoy.

Based on the analysis presented by McEvoy, a large chunk of the tax increase appears to be driven by the increased number of City employees. According to McEvoy, since 2004, the City has taken on an additional 38 employees and the amount spent on salaries has risen by over $10 million. A lot of the $10 million increase comes from increased salaries as opposed to new workers, but this, in itself, is a problem, claimed McEvoy.

“We feel the City is driving up wages and the private sector is having a hard time competing,” he said.

Visitor’s Centre wants more funding for more visitors  

Colin Dempsey, Chair of The Northern Frontier Visitors Centre, also used the last public consultation to petition the City for an extra $30,000 in core funding to help the centre deal with a boom in visitors.

Since 2005, the number of visitors coming to the centre has nearly doubled, he said. However, its core funding has only increased with inflation.

“Obviously dealing with an extra 12-13,000 visitors a year has implications on our staffing levels,” said Dempsey. There’s also an increased cost due to the gift shop’s switch to selling locally produced goods – something Dempsey said generated over $1 million in local economic activity last year based on $450,000 in sales.

He also asked the City to allocate an additional $5,000 for special events like the Shore Lunch Cook-Off that started this past summer and another $5,000 in in-kind services for things like garbage collection and snow removal.

Dempsey acknowledged that his was just one of a number of organizations asking for more money in the upcoming budget, but he stressed the importance of the centre to all of Yellowknife: not only is it one of the most popular tourist destinations in town, “because there are deficiencies in the provision of information … from local operators and service providers, we make up that deficiency.”