Rapid population growth, major infrastructure deficits two burning issues for cash-short city

Iqaluit braces for long-term planning, problems

By CHRIS WINDEYER

Isabel Budke got the ball rolling, now it's up to the City of Iqaluit to finish the long-term planning she started.

The city planner, hired by Iqaluit this past summer to help jump-start the planning process, finished her four-month contract in November, and in the new year the city will start looking for her replacement.

"She did amazingly great," said Elisapee Sheutiapik, Iqaluit's mayor.

"First of all she had the expertise, but most importantly she had no history in the community. So she was going into this with a goal, and that was to start the process, without any hidden agendas in local residents' views. She did that quite well."

Budke spent most of her time here organizing public meetings to gauge how Iqalummiut want to see their city develop. Those meetings included sessions with both youth and elders, as well as some words of warning and encouragement from Yellowknife city councillor Mark Heyck. He urged Iqaluit to start planning before a population boom makes growth unmanageable.

That growth is coming quickly: the city estimates it could double in size to a population of 12,000 by 2027.

The city's goal is a plan outlining how Iqaluit will grow over the next 30 to 100 years. The so-called "sustainability coordinator" will have two years to craft the plan. Budke's successor, who will cost the city $150,000 in salary, benefits and expenses over each of the next two years, will be charged with filling in the details.

But what is actually going to be in the long-term plan? A backgrounder prepared by Budke before her departure refers to the need to prepare for the onset of climate change, population growth and a boom in mineral exploration, but there's precious little detail about how to do that.

Some of the short-term goals are already familiar to Iqalummiut. Sheutiapik lists a new recreation centre, complete with swimming pool, an arts centre, and a fix for Iqaluit's chronic garbage woes as the city's most pressing short-term needs.

The recreation centre was already shot down once by taxpayers in a plebiscite held during municipal elections in October 2006. Sheutiapik thinks more consultation would have convinced homeowners to let city hall borrow $12 million to pay for the centre.

"If we were better prepared and had these meetings on different things, for instance the [recreation centre and] swimming pool… I think it would have happened," she said.

Sheuatiapik also said the city needs a long-term plan to access funding from federal infrastructure programs. It's also needed to get grants from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities' Green Municipal Fund, which doles out millions of dollars to Canadian cities and towns for environmentally friendly studies and projects.

That's one reason Coun. Glenn Williams, who remains skeptical about the process, keeps voting for long-term planning motions that come before council.

But he still has reservations about the process and says he doesn't understand how planning will help deal with two of Iqaluit's most pressing infrastructure needs: a proposed hydroelectric dam and a deep-water port for which the city has been lobbying.

"I don't know where planning is going to contribute to us finding a funding source so that we can actually develop a port," he said.

In November, Williams' reservations led to him butting heads with Sheutiapik over diverting $25,000 of a $250,000 grant from a U.S. charity. Williams balked at an abrupt request by the mayor to put $25,000 of the money aside to pay for the sustainability coordinator's position.

That caused the normally easy-going Sheutiapik to accuse Williams of second-guessing her agenda.

And this summer, when councillors Claude Martel and Jim Little appeared reluctant to support hiring Budke, Sheutiapik raised the spectre of losing millions in federal infrastructure money.

"She is very committed to the long-term planning and I respect her vision and her understanding… but at the same time I have reservations and it's my inability to see what the mayor's seeing," Williams said.

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