'A very foolish move': Yellowknife residents blast city's proposed property tax hike

Given the already high cost of living in Yellowknife, the city's proposed 7.47 per cent property tax increase doesn't sit well with a number of residents. (Liny Lamberink/CBC - image credit)
Given the already high cost of living in Yellowknife, the city's proposed 7.47 per cent property tax increase doesn't sit well with a number of residents. (Liny Lamberink/CBC - image credit)

With prices rising on everything from food to fuel, some Yellowknife residents and business owners are questioning the city's proposal to jack up property taxes too.

"It would be a very foolish move on the part of the city to do that," said Faith Embleton of Embleton House Bed and Breakfast, in response to the city's proposed 7.47 per cent property tax increase.

"I think that we're already overtaxed."

The city recommended the tax increase, which would apply to residential and commercial properties, in its 2023 draft budget. It follows a nine per cent residential property tax increase, and 2.25 per cent commercial property tax increase, approved by the previous city council this past spring.

The suggested increase is a starting point for budget discussions at the council table in the coming weeks.

But given the already high cost of living in Yellowknife, the recent proposal isn't sitting well with a number of residents.

'We cannot afford every toy we want' 

"People that have lived here a long time are starting to get fed up with this," said Embleton, who's called Yellowknife home since 1962. "They're starting to look to other places to live that are cheaper, especially when it comes to retirement."

She's imploring city council to think about what the city can afford, and figure out how to pay for that without adding to the stress on homeowners and business people.

"They need to realize that they have to live within their budget, just like everybody else," she said. "We cannot afford every toy we want."

Sidney Cohen/CBC News
Sidney Cohen/CBC News

Sharolynn Woodward, Yellowknife's director of corporate services, said the city is underfunded by the territorial government and faces pressure from inflation, as well as rising program and infrastructure costs. The tax base, meanwhile, has stayed basically the same size.

Woodward said during her budget presentation Monday that at the same time, "the city is managing heavily burdened staff resources, and the city still needs to fill its legislated requirement to develop a balanced budget."

Submitted by David Heron
Submitted by David Heron

David Heron, a lifelong northerner, recognizes that prices have gone up and tax increases are necessary, but said the 7.47 per cent tax hike is "quite ridiculous."

Heron is considering buying a home in Yellowknife, but rising costs have him second-guessing himself.

"It's getting to the point where, is it worth buying a place or living here?" he said. "The cost of living up here, it's going to scare off a lot more people."

According to September data from the NWT Bureau of Statistics, consumer prices in Yellowknife went up 7.7 per cent compared to one year ago. In Canada overall, prices rose 6.9 per cent.

'Where is our breaking point?'

"Costs are going up everywhere right now. Our supply costs are going up, oil costs are going up, everything's going up," said Kyle Thomas, co-owner of agriculture and food startup Bush Order Provisions.

For Thomas's fledgling business, the proposed property tax hike would be another hit.

"It's tough to incur those costs continuously," he said. "We keep asking ourselves, where is our breaking point? Because we can only increase our outputs, or our costs, so much."

The Yellowknife Chamber of Commerce said its board is reviewing the city's proposed budget and will likely put out a response next week.

Yellowknife's draft budget also recommends adding six jobs to the city's workforce: two emergency dispatchers, an arts and culture position, a manager of environmental monitoring and compliance, an administrative assistant and a human resources officer.

Chantal Dubuc/CBC
Chantal Dubuc/CBC

Ainsley Dempsey is a homeowner and co-owner of The Gallery on 47th Street, an art gallery in downtown.

She, too, understands the municipal government is feeling the pinch of inflation. Still, she wonders whether the city could find places to trim, rather than add to the burden on taxpayers.

"Everyone else is having to tighten things up and cut costs," she said. "I don't know if now is the best time for anybody to be expanding, including the city."

The city did not respond to CBC's questions about the budget before deadline.

City council will have opportunities to hear from the public and make adjustments to the budget before approving a final version on Dec. 12.