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Yellowknife seeks approval for energy retrofits, hotel levies

It could soon become easier for Yellowknifers to pay for solar panels or pellet boilers, with city hall eyeing an energy retrofit program. But before something like this can happen, they need to sell the territorial government on this, and other, ideas.

City hall wants more powers from the territorial government

Local improvement charges would let people borrow from the city to pay for energy retrofits, like solar panel installation, and pay back the loan through their taxes.

It could soon become easier for Yellowknifers to pay for solar panels or pellet boilers, with city hall eyeing up an energy retrofit program.

The idea is to have the municipality provide up front financing to homeowners looking to make expensive energy-efficiency upgrades. These loans could be paid back in property taxes over a number of years, and would be tied to the property, protecting the owner if they decide to sell.  

Before a program like this can happen, however, city hall needs to sell the territorial government on the idea. Right now these kinds of "local improvement charges" are not allowed, according to the City, Towns and Villages Act.

This is just one of six legislative changes that city administration wants from the territorial government.

"They did say they would be reviewing and revising their legislation as part of the 18th Assembly, and we just want to give them a list and say, 'here's what we want,'" said Dennis Kefalas, the city's senior administrative officer.

Visitor levies and sticker shocks

The other changes requested include allowing the city to collect a visitor levy from hotels and changing the rules about tax collection after a general property assessment.

Money from a visitor levy could be used to help pay for city-wide destination marketing campaigns or special events, like the Canada Winter Games, should the city decide to bid again for 2031 games. The levy idea has the support of the Yellowknife Hotel Association, and would apply to all hotels in the city.

The requested change to tax collection, would allow the city to dampen the effects of sudden spikes in municipal taxes.

"If taxes increase due to the assessment, property owners may receive a higher tax bill than expected (sticker shock)," the memorandum from administration explains.  

"The City would like the ability to phase in tax increases which may cause sticker shock."

Council questions

"I think we're going to have to lay out a business plan, when we're proposing the GNWT change legislation," said Coun. Adrian Bell.

"If all we're asking is for them to look into it, I think the easy answer for them is just, 'well, No, we've got too much on our plates. If you can't demonstrate that this is something that would be valuable, then we're simply not going to do it.'"

Kefalas said his staff would be actively lobbying their territorial counterparts and making a case for the changes: "We've looked at different alternatives, but this definitely meets the needs of our city in order to be more progressive and allow us to provide better governance of ourselves in the future."

Councillors will decide whether to approve Kefalas' lobbying efforts at next monday's council meeting. If the lobbying efforts prove successful, it doesn't mean council has to act on all of the changes.

"Anything that's enabled by these six legislative amendments would require a separate level of approval from council to go forward," explained Mayor Mark Heyck.

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