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Yellowknife council proceeds with property tax and fee increases

Yellowknife city councillors have considered, and rejected, delaying planned increases to property taxes and fees to relieve financial pressures associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Councillors say its too early to assess full economic impact of COVID-19 pandemic

Yellowknife city councillors considered, and rejected, delaying proposed increases to taxes and fees for 2020 to relieve financial pressures associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. (Andrew Pacey/CBC)

Yellowknife city councillors have considered, and rejected, delaying planned increases to property taxes and fees to relieve financial pressures associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.

A committee composed of all city councillors discussed holding off on the increases at a teleconference on Monday.

Prior to widespread shutdowns imposed to protect against the pandemic, city council approved a 1.63 per cent property tax increase for this year. It also approved a three per cent increase to the myriad of fees the city charges for things such as using recreational facilities, business licences, development permits and water.

A report by city staff indicated the property tax increase will result in an additional $22 in property taxes annually for a property assessed at $250,000 and an additional $49 for one assessed at $450,000.

"I don't think we know the full picture of whether there will be a second or third wave [of COVID-19] and what is the [N.W.T. government's] plan for the phases of releasing and how does that all look," said Mayor Rebecca Alty.

Territorial health officials have yet to release a plan for easing restrictions imposed to prevent the spread of COVID-19. They had earlier said they were hoping to release the plan by the end of last week.

City revenues have taken a hit due to the closure of recreational facilities, waiving of transit fees, parking metre fees and late payment penalties.

A staff report prepared for Monday's discussion projected that the city would lose almost $850,000 in revenue if its facilities were to open September 1 instead of July 1. If they have to remain closed until Jan. 1, 2021, the city would miss out on a total of $2.4 million in revenue compared to a July 1 opening.

"If we reduce property taxes this year ... we would have a sharper spike in property tax increases next year and the year after that," said Coun. Shauna Morgan during discussion of the potential deferrals.

"Certainly the economic impacts have been felt quite unevenly across our population. There are some people that do remain secure in their jobs and may be even saving more money than usual at the moment," Morgan said, adding she would rather an approach that provides relief to those who need it most.

The vast majority of government employees and those who work for government agencies (and crown corporations such as CBC) have so far escaped the financial hardship the pandemic has inflicted on many in the private sector. Though public services have been cut back and revenue projections have been revised downward, there has been no public discussion of layoffs in the different levels of governments.

According to the most recent numbers available from the N.W.T. Bureau of Statistics, roughly 40 per cent of the city's workforce works in government, health and social services and education.

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