Council Candidates on Taxes vs. Services

With only a week and a half left until the municipal election, EDGE decided, as an experiment, to send some “fake” motions to each council candidate in an attempt to delve deeper into their beliefs. The motions were pretty blunt and weren’t meant to be 100 percent realistic (in reality, councillors would have far more scope when making budgeting choices, and individual items would not be bundled together like this). The idea, rather, was to provoke discussion on the balance between raising/cutting property taxes and providing services in hopes of getting a better sense of where each candidate stands.

Unsurprisingly, perhaps, most candidates plumped for the safest response, a solid vote for the status quo, while a few rejected the premise entirely. We may need to tweak this experiment some more, but in the meantime, here are the motions and candidate responses:

The Motions:

1) Raise property tax by 3.5 percent – use the increased revenue of just under $1 million to:

– Increase the budget for downtown beautification.

– Lower user fees for recreation, such as the pool and field house.

– Lower tipping fees at the dump.

2) Keep property taxes the same and the status quo on funding for downtown beautification, recreation fees and dump tipping fees.

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3) Cut property tax by 3.5 percent but:

– Reduce budget for downtown beautification.

– Increase user fees for recreation.

– Increase dump tipping fees.

The Responses:

Rebecca Alty – Motion #2

I would go with this but I don’t think we have to keep status quo. I think when reviewing the budget, we need to really focus on core needs, cut anything that’s not required and redirect that money to other core projects. The sidewalks downtown are in pitiful condition. By fixing this core responsibility of the City, we’ll be doing a lot to beautify the downtown. And I don’t think we necessarily need more money. We just need to redirect money from projects that are “nice to have” to this core service. I think we also need to find ways to increase users in our recreation facilities and ways to decrease our expenses, instead of increasing the user fees every year to make up any shortfall. ​

Linda Bussey – Motion #2

I would support the motion that keeps property taxes at the current level and maintains the status quo on downtown beautification, recreation fees and dump tipping fees. One of the main concerns for city residents is our high cost of living. Yellowknife’s cost of living is already a concern for many, so I don’t think it would be reasonable to impose higher taxes on our residents. We need to look for ways to offer reasonable fees to access facilities and participate in recreational activities. Local dumping fees are equal to other municipalities and should not be increased. Without a doubt, beautification is important but beautification projects need to be implemented in a manageable manner and at a lower cost. If we want more people to establish themselves here, we need to be fiscally responsible and strive to lessen the burden on taxpayers while making services and recreation opportunities accessible to all residents.

Steve Payne – Motion #2

At this point I would keep the status quo. But I would revisit the budget on the downtown beautification. I would not support increasing any fees, but continue to look for ways to make Yellowknife more affordable. Keeping taxes the same doesn’t cost the people more.

Marie-Soleil Lacoursiere – Motion #2

Council must only support initiatives the City can afford.

I’d like to bring my budgeting, sourcing and contracting experience to the table to find efficiencies within the current budget so that residents are assured that their taxes are well spent.

The downtown needs a five-year plan including yearly goals, milestones, a robust budget, appropriate contingency, solid partners, risk mitigation, and secured sources of funding. It is not right to increase taxes to bump up funding for downtown without that clear path forward.

I believe the city can spend the money they have more effectively in order to make decisions and invest in the downtown, creating smart infrastructure to enable more people to live and work downtown.

I do not support increasing recreation fees or tipping fees. Residents must be able to enjoy the recreation facilities regardless of their financial situation and the dump tipping fees are high enough.

Rommel Silvario – Motion #2

I vote for #2. I see the need to improve the downtown core because it is the heart of the city and rightfully must not only be beautified, but revitalized to attract business and growth.

When there are more businesses established, more employment offerings attracting more people to come live and stay in Yellowknife will become available. This will allow the city to generate more revenue. The result is the city being empowered to deliver more effective services it owes to Yellowknifers.

We must continue seeking more effective solutions for social ills centralized downtown as these are interrelated issues.

Increasing recreation and dumping fees or higher taxes will worsen cost of living and could result in more people leaving Yellowknife. The last thing I want to see is residents shouldering higher costs due to poor budgeting and spending decisions; anything that could result in this should be closely scrutinized.

Julian Morse – Motion #2

I would choose option 2, as I have heard from many residents that costs are already too high as it is, and I don’t think a tax raise specifically for downtown beautification would be fair. The city is facing infrastructure deficits that are more pressing than beautification projects. I would push for the city to pursue measures to reduce costs within administration and the O&M budget to avoid additional costs being placed on residents as much as possible. I do support revitalization of the downtown core, but I think the city needs to be creative in how this is achieved. In my opinion, incentivizing business and development downtown, and alleviating homelessness will contribute more to downtown revitalization than capital investment by the city alone. If the option had been to raise taxes slightly, just to increase access for families to recreation facilities, I might have considered it.

Beaton MacKenzie – Unclear

The city needs to be more efficient in it’s delivery of services and live within their means of operation. The city should be able to set a tax base for operation and maintenance and not subsidize through user fees. They may proclaim that they have not raised taxes, but a third of their budget revenues come from user fees. Those fees have increased substantially over the past two years.

Phil Moon Son – None of the options

During discussions related to a motion, changes are often made through the process. Given the limited information provided I would opt to defer this back to administration or committee for more information, and review issues such as how taxes, fees or beautification costs would increase or decrease. However in general I think property taxes should remain status quo.

Shauna Morgan – Motion #2

The closest option I would support is the #2 status quo option, for the following reasons:

I commit to looking for creative ways to improve programs and services and revitalize our downtown without increasing either user fees or taxes.

This City cannot afford to give up on our downtown. It is still the central area where most people work, many live and where we enjoy arts, culture and restaurants. We don’t need to make it look fancy, we need to clean it up and make it feel like home – creating an atmosphere where people treat each other and the space with respect.

I support accessible and affordable recreation opportunities, which is why I support the existing Recreation for All program which offers free Flex-passes to low-income families.

I am not aware of widespread concern about existing dump tipping fees, plus we should maintain incentives for people to recycle, reuse and compost as much as possible.

Niels Konge – An amendment

I would pose an amendment. Keep property taxes the same, cut funding for the downtown beautification, and use that money for sidewalks and roads as well as the water connection relief fund.

Dane Mason – Motion #2

The City’s most direct influence on cost of living is through property tax. It affects homeowners, rental prices, and the cost of goods and services. Last year, the high tax rate changes for Kam Lake properties had to balance on business owners’ bottom lines. You can absorb a little tax increase, but when it’s over double or triple your current rate all at once, that burden gets passed on to Yellowknife consumers in the form of higher prices.

The proposed option I’m closest to supporting out is keeping property taxes the same, and maintaining zero increase to user fees and recreation facilities. In a real situation, I would be in support of finding alternatives – for example, let’s cut the downtown beautification budget for a while and use the money to fill in some potholes and put in a traffic light or two, and prevent an increase in taxes or fees.

Adrian Bell – None of the options

As someone who takes budgeting seriously and who expects to be held accountable for media responses, I’m not prepared to provide a hypothetical answer to a “not 100% realistic” (your words) question. Your scenario is overly simplistic and ignores the many other factors and hours of debate that go into a decision such as this. I will say I don’t think cutting taxes for the sake of cutting taxes is either desirable or realistic, but nor do I think we’ve found all the efficiencies that are out there to be found. I would like the opportunity to keep looking. I also believe we need to use tools other than beautification in addressing our downtown problems. See my platform for more on this point. On fees, I generally believe in a cost-recovery approach, but there are certain fees that need to be reviewed for fairness.

Jugjit More-Curran – None of the options

My primary reason for running in this election is so I can work on behalf of Yellowknife families to reduce the cost of living and working here. In assessing the three options through that lens, I find neither is an acceptable motion that I could support. Higher taxes combined with lower fees in theory serve to cancel each other out, which means we’d get the status quo. The same taxes and same fees, that’s obviously a vote for the status quo. Lower taxes combined with higher fees, again they result in the status quo. I would work to find a fourth option that actually leaves more in people’s household budgets each month. I’m not interested in simply playing games with whether we’ll call the money residents pay to run their City a tax or a fee. Yellowknifers need to be able to expect more from council.

Mark Bogan – Motion # 2My aim as City Councillor is to reduce frivolous expenses while freezing taxes plus recreation and tipping fees by getting back to basics.I will also research how foreign Countries are dealing with climate change. The permafrost is weakening and can cause sink holes on roads and properties. I will look for ways to better methods of re-surfacing our roads while increasing their durability.

We did not hear back from Thom Jarvis.

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