Future of Nunavut’s capital rests on ratepayers’ vote

Sept. 11 vote will make or break Iqaluit’s infrastructure plan


Iqaluit city officials will stress the need for better and cleaner water in a major pitch to ratepayers that culminates in a crucial ratepayers-only vote on Sept. 11.

That’s the day when municipal taxpayers in Iqaluit will decide whether they want to foot the bill for improvements to municipal water services.

The results of this vote will also show whether they support the city’s larger plan to carry out a $50 million package of infrastructure improvements within Nunavut’s capital city by 2008.

Promoting the “Mother and apple pie issues” of water is how Ian Fremantle, the chief administrator of the City of Iqaluit, plans to sell the city’s plan.

The September vote will ask ratepayers – that is, only those people who own property and pay municipal taxes – if they want to pay for water-related improvements, instead of asking them for a percentage-based contribution to all the projects.

“Everyone needs drinking water,” Fremantle said. “Water is something that transcends all boundaries. Everyone needs water.”

The recent fire that devastated Joamie School exposed the city’s need for more water storage and greater water pressure, when firefighters ran out of water.

The $4 million that the city wants to borrow is part of a $50 million package of work on roads, water and sewage systems and recreation facilities that it wants to perform over the next five years.

Last December, the Government of Nunavut agreed to give Iqaluit $31 million between 2003 and 2008 to help pay for these infrastructure projects.

But under this deal, the city has to contribute $19 million of its own money. It only has $15 million available through reserves, taxes and other funds.

To borrow the $4 million needed to make up the shortfall, the city needs the approval of ratepayers. The city would like to borrow this amount in 2004 and pay back $476,000 each year for the next 15 years.

For every $1 the city contributes, the GN will pay an additional $3.63.

“It’s a good deal,” said John Hussey, the city’s chief financial officer. “We have to sell the idea that it will be good for Iqaluit.”

The city plans to do this through an information campaign that will be launched after second reading of the by-law to borrow money for municipal purposes, at a council meeting scheduled for Aug. 26.

Ratepayers – that is, all individuals or businesses that pay taxes on one or more properties – will then be given information on the vote. Most ratepayers will have only one vote, even if they own several properties registered under the same name.

If the vote’s results don’t go the way the city hopes, it can call another vote in six months.

But if ratepayers don’t give the go-ahead for the city to borrow this money, the deal it has signed with the GN could be in jeopardy.

At a public meeting held last February in Iqaluit, some taxpayers said they weren’t interested in paying money out of their own pockets for improvements that benefit even non-property owners.

And even with the scheme to borrow money, ratepayers will face paying about $100 a year more on property taxes and municipal service bills in 2003 to help finance improvements.

The challenge facing the city is to sell the idea – which is crucial to the city’s overall infrastructure and future development plans.

Ratepayers have also argued that people who haven’t been paying their tax bills should fork over what they owe before the city goes ahead and borrows any money.

At a special council meeting this week, municipal councilors decided not to defer the planned Sept. 15 auction sale of properties owing back-taxes.

In a letter to the city dated Aug. 5, Paul Kaludjak, acting president of Nunavut Tunngavik, asked for the tax auction be postponed “until a multi-disciplinary group of representatives from all levels of government and community” would look at the issues involved.

At the same special meeting, councilors gave first reading to a municipal by-law that says a total of $4,050,000 will be spent on a variety of mainly water-related projects:

* $1 million for the water main between the Airport and federal roads;
* $890,000 for the Lower Base water and sewage systems;
* $890,000 for the extension of water mains on the Federal Road;
* $400,000 on upgrading of water and sewer mains;
* $359,000 on the storage of raw sewage;
* $297,000 on a storage tank for new treated water;
* $109,000 on an upgrade of the water and sewer on Uivvaq Loop;
* $5,000 on the water treatment plant upgrade.

Of the total amount the city wants to borrow, $100,0000 is earmarked for walking trails. This project will be entirely paid for by borrowed money.

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