Homeowners’ group vows to change city hall decision-making

Property tax increase a rallying point for disgruntled residents



Disgruntled homeowners in Iqaluit won’t fine-tune their plan on how to sway city councillors on issues such as taxation, for at least another month.

But they’re already sending a warning to council that city hall will have to change the way they make decisions.

“Our priority right now is getting involved in the decisions that are made at the City,” said Keith Irving, a former councillor and now spokesperson for the homeowners.

“We see this as a very positive step. It’s grassroots democracy and participation.”

But Irving said it’s too early to tell which issues homeowners want to attack the most.

More than 50 homeowners gathered in Iqaluit’s Royal Canadian Legion Cadet Hall for their second meeting on Jan. 19, repeating their frustration that city council and administration are making bad decisions on how to run services.

During their inaugural meeting earlier this month, they criticized every municipal service, from road repair to waste management.

But the most controversial decision seems to be a pending property tax hike, approved in the 2005-06 budget passed last month. A family owning a house valued around $200,000 will see their taxes go up by $450 next year, totaling more than $8,400.

The tax hike took homeowners by surprise because council already beefed up taxes last year, after asking ratepayers to approve a loan scheme for their capital plan to improve infrastructure such as roads.

Irving, who made an unsuccessful bid to be mayor in 2003, said there’s been a communication gap between homeowners and local politicians for years.

Now, homeowners are going to fill that gap themselves, but won’t have a clear mandate on how to do so until later this spring.

The group approved an 11-member interim steering committee, including Irving and co-chair Simon Awa.

The committee hopes to elect a board of directors at an annual general meeting at the end of February.

The group is limiting their membership to homeowners, although no formal bylaws have been drafted.

Irving said they’ve focused on homeowners, instead of people paying rent, because they believe other residents don’t carry the same tax burden.

“We personally fill out that cheque that we hand over to city hall,” Irving said. “The tax burden on homeowners is out of proportion to the rest.”

Mayor Elisapee Sheutiapik applauded the homeowners’ group for coming together, citing past difficulties in gauging their concerns.

Sheutiapik suggested that council misses hearing homeowners’ concerns because residents are often intimidated by the formality of council meetings, and don’t speak up.

“I know taxpayers do talk among themselves,” Sheutiapik said. “But nothing gets resolved unless we talk about it openly.”

But council has ignored past advice from ratepayers, according to one homeowner.

Larry Simpson said ratepayers told the council in a plebiscite on the capital plan about two years ago that they should avoid raising taxes again, and find new ways of raising revenues.

“This group has to be set to watch out for our needs,” said Simpson, who’s owned a house near the cemetery for 21 years.

“No one else is going to.”

The location for the Feb. 23 annual general meeting hasn’t been confirmed. For information, phone Susan Gardiner at 979-4209.

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