Still skeptical, Iqaluit council continues line-by-line scrutiny of city budget
Councillors push to fill vacancies in engineering department
Iqaluit City Council’s promise to review this year’s budget line by line held firm Feb. 11, when they refused to pass it without double-checking all the changes they ordered.
City administrators put the final draft of Iqaluit’s budget for 2014 on councillors desks just in time for council’s second regular meeting of the month.
But most councillors wanted to hold off on passing the thick document, after Coun. Kenny Bell said he didn’t recognize some changes.
“The new document was just put here in front of us now, or this afternoon,” Bell said. “There are some things that I don’t recognize off the top of my head. I haven’t even had a chance to look through it.”
The proposed budget document, amounting to hundreds of pages of detailed figures describing expenses in all the city’s departments, included “a lot of new documents,” Bell said.
“We haven’t had the chance to read them,” he said. “And I don’t think we should be voting on any of this right now, until we’ve reviewed the documents.”
Councillors Terry Dobbin and Noah Papatsie agreed.
Council agreed Feb. 4 to a tax increase of 1.5 mill across all property tax categories in the city, or $1.5 on each $1,000 of a property’s assessed value.
This came after six meetings of discussion and debate, in which council reduced the proposed mill rate increase by half. Changes to the original draft budget were highlighted in the final draft that administration returned to council.
“These are the changes that we recommended” to administration, said Coun. Romeyn Stevenson, who chaired the budget meetings.
“I was keeping a running log of all of the changes that we had talked about. All of those changes came down to this,” he told fellow councillors.
In the end, a motion to pass the budget failed by four votes to two. Coun. Joanasie Akumalik abstained, claiming he had missed some budget meetings, and so did not feel qualified to vote without first reviewing the document.
Deputy mayor Mary Wilman chaired the meeting in Mayor John Graham’s absence, and did not vote.
Coun. Mark Morrissey noted that the city’s 2014 budget had to be passed that day in order to meet the approval the Government of Nunavut. Stevenson agreed, but said he did not foresee any difficulties putting off a decision on the document to the next council meeting on Feb. 25.
Council then turned its attention to another item that could not be put off: finding a temporary replacement for the city’s director of engineering, Meagan Leach, who started a year-long parental leave of absence Feb. 10.
Project officer Paul Clow, also of the engineering department, will join Leach on a similar leave of absence later in the year, for three months.
With no staff lined up to fill the vacant positions this year, Coun. Simon Nattaq tabled a motion calling for the city to hire a temporary replacement on contract “as soon as possible,” and a second motion calling for added help from the Government of Nunavut to fill staffing shortages.
Each motion passed unanimously.
Bell blamed city administration for not trying to hire a temporary employee to fill Leach’s position.
“There was not one attempt to hire somebody,” even though the city’s department of engineering has several major projects on the go for 2014, he said.
These include Iqaluit’s new solid waste plan and new cemetery.
“I really dislike contracting services out, especially when we had the opportunity and we knew well in advance that people were leaving,” Bell said. “We could have at least attempted to hire people.”
On a brighter note, the city’s director of corporate services, John Maberri-Mudonyi, brought attention to a small victory for city council.
A promised donation of $30,000 from Northmart, delayed by almost nine months, finally came through on Feb. 10, he said.
Northmart announced its donation to the city in a small ceremony at the store last April, as part of its “Greener Tomorrow” program.
City council had intended to use it to hire student employees to clean up the city in the summer, but ended up paying the students out of its own budget when the amount didn’t come through.
The North West Co., owners of Northmart stores, quickly honoured the missed payment after Coun. Dobbin highlighted the missing funds during heated budget discussions.