Yellowknife councillors lukewarm to some Chamber of Commerce recommendations
Chamber says city hall has a role to play in helping businesses survive COVID-19 lockdown
Yellowknife city councillors are unanimous in their support of recommendations the city's chamber of commerce has made to the territorial and federal governments for helping businesses weather the COVID-19 storm, but they were less enthusiastic about some measures aimed at the city.
The Yellowknife Chamber of Commerce wants the city to adopt seven recommendations, including using money in some of its reserve funds to help business, and providing interest-free postponements of property taxes, water bills, development permits and business fees until next year.
"Our recommendations are built on the belief that all levels of government should invest in preserving our business community and helping entrepreneurs survive the current crisis," said the chamber in a letter to council detailing the recommendations. "Yellowknife businesses need immediate relief."
Councillors had a chance to question the chamber about the requests at a committee meeting on Monday.
"How do we pay for this?" asked Coun. Niels Konge.
"It would be the city of Yellowknife, the taxpayers, the business community as a whole," said the chamber's executive director, Deneen Everett. Everett was referring specifically to the recommendation to use money from the Downtown Development Reserve and Revitalization Initiative Reserve for programs to support businesses.
"What we're talking about is money that's already been raised through increased parking fees," said chamber president Tim Syer. "It's money the city already has."
But city director Kerry Penney said there's going to be about $158,000 less than budgeted in one of the reserves because the city has waived parking meter fees during the pandemic. The other reserve — used to pay for developing land downtown and in other areas of the city — is paid for by land sales.
"We have to balance any short-term actions we take now against the long term plans for these funds," said Penney. "As we're all aware, the city doesn't have extra money to put back into these funds."
Penney also noted the city has suspended late fees and insufficient funds charges on water bills and property tax instalments, further reducing the revenues the city anticipated receiving this year. It has also waived transit fees and is no longer collecting fees associated with the use of indoor recreational facilities, which are all closed.
"I'm still not very clear on what gap recommendation number one is filling," said Coun. Robin Williams, referring to the recommendation that the city dip into its reserve funds. Williams said he would prefer to wait and see what needs remain after new federal and territorial programs aimed at supporting business are fully implemented.
Konge said he's does not support of deferring water fees, development fees and permitting fees until next year.
"It could have a huge effect on what we can do as a city. If we have to go out and borrow money like they did in Grande Prairie — Grande Prairie borrowed like 30 million bucks, and the taxpayers will be paying for that," he said. "That certainly doesn't support my long-term goal of trying to keep city taxes as low as possible."
The chamber suggested if council is reluctant to tap into its reserve funds it may want to consider applying some of its $6.7 million surplus from last year to business support programs. Last week, at least one councillor asked how that surplus could be applied to reduce a 1.63 per cent property tax increase scheduled to take effect this summer.
Councillors supported the chamber's recommendation to move as many services online as possible, and to continue if not accelerate its contracting for infrastructure projects to stimulate the local economy.
Council asked staff for more information on the plans for spending the money in the two reserve funds. It did not set any date for a final response to the chamber.