Kelowna council is deliberating the 2023 preliminary budget. (Photo/Gary Barnes)

Kelowna council is deliberating the 2023 preliminary budget. (Photo/Gary Barnes)

Kelowna council approves less than 4 per cent property tax increase

Council and city staff went through the document line-by-line.

Proposed Property Tax Increase Reduced

City staff have reviewed and made changes to several items in the 2023 preliminary budget to reduce the proposed tax increase to 3.80 per cent.

That is down slightly from the original 4.01 per cent request. Councillors applauded staff for the effort.

“Thank you staff for a great job and to our city manager as well, and thank you Mayor Dyas for your leadership,” said Coun. Luke Stack.

Coun. Maxine DeHart said it was fantastic to be under four per cent.

“I think the city departments are happy with what they got, I hope they are.”

Coun. Rick Webber said he was initially worried about the budget considering inflation and having to use reserves.

“We won’t be able to do this every year,” he said. “I hate to be the Grinch.”

Council voted in favour of the revised figure with Coun. Ron Cannan opposed.

Public Safety Levy

The city’s proposed public safety levy request in the 2023 preliminary budget will cost nearly $1.7 million dollars.

The total cost is almost $1.5 million, with $205,000 coming from reserve funds. The one per cent levy is included in the proposed 4.01 per cent tax increase for 2023.

In speaking in favour of the budget item, Coun. Mohini Singh noted Kelowna is growing, and that means a need for more protective services, such as police officers and firefighters.

“It’s not a nice to have but a need to have,” she said.

The levy is budgeted at $3.4 million for 2024, and $5.2 million in 2025, all coming from taxation.

Parkinson Recreation Centre Replacement

City staff have requested council set aside $828,000 a year until 2025 for debt financing to replace the Parkinson Recreation Centre.

It’s to help prepare for and smooth out the taxation impact of borrowing. Funds will be contributed to reserves in 2023 and then reallocated to cover debt servicing costs when appropriate.

The $3.9 million allocated for the design process of what’s being called the Kelowna Community Campus will be left in reserve until council is satisfied with the scope of the project. That would likely include another tour of recreation facilities in the Lower Mainland. The previous council did a similar tour in Feb. 2021.

Bylaw Services

Council is looking for more money to fund bylaw services in the 2023 preliminary budget.

City staff has suggested $65,900 for each of 2023, 2024, and 2025 to fund part-time bylaw officers during the summer months as well as overtime.

“There just doesn’t seem to be enough of them to deal with the various issues in the city,” said Mayor Tom Dyas in asking staff to find more money in the budget.

There is also a request in the budget for two full-time bylaw positions, which would be funded through the proposed one per cent public safety levy.

Council voted to defer the item with Coun. Luke Stack opposed.

Journey Home Strategy

A review of the city’s Journey Home Strategy Implementation ought to be done in-house according to several councillors.

Mayor Dyas suggested the budget item be deferred to assess whether the $40,000 review, which would be conducted by an outside consultant, could be done for less and by city staff.

Coun. Luke Stack agreed.

“We have gained expertise with our own staff,” said Stack. “Why can’t we do this review in-house and use our own expertise?”

Councillor Loyal Wooldridge said he would still like to see the budget kept at $40,000.

“It’s a top priority in the community,” he added.

Council voted to have staff reconsider the item with Wooldridge opposed.

Climate Change

Coun. Charlie Hodge made a case for the city to live up to addressing climate action in the budget.

“Next to our crime problem nothing is more important than the climate and we need to look at hiring someone,” said Hodge, referring to a funding request for an environmental stewardship manager position.

The cost for 2023 is $74,300 and increases to $195, 500 for both 2024 and 2025, coming from taxation.

In 2021, council approved a request for a term position responding to concerns about the city’s climate change and environmental indicators that were not trending in the correct direction.

Coun. Ron Cannan made a motion to defer the request and extend the term position for a year.

“Rather than spend $200,000 on a staff position I’d like to see the money going to climate action programs.”

Several councillors spoke against deferring the item and Cannan’s motion was defeated.

Infrastructure

Mayor Tom Dyas has suggested council look at taking a $300,000 burden off the taxpayer for three budget items.

A strategic transportation partnership with the Regional District of Central Okanagan, a downtown transportation review and a stormwater basin project are all one-time requests in the 2023 preliminary budget. Days asked staff to consider funding those items from reserves rather than taxation.

Staff will report back to council later today.

Coun. Luke Stack had concerns over increases to the snow and ice removal budget. The request is for $200,000 per year over the next three years, bringing the budget to $600,000 by 2025.

So far the city has spent $2 million of the $2.185 million set aside for 2022, and the average annual overage for the past 10 years has been approximately $200,000.

Staff told council that with the overspending the city is looking to catch up. The plan is to spread the increase over time so there is not a big hit to the taxpayer. Staff noted that if there were several years of surplus in the snow removal budget, it would be adjusted downward.

Coun. Charlie Hodge asked if council, and staff to some extent, have failed to plan for the rainy day.

“I don’t want to see us get caught short again,” added Hodge.

The goal is to ensure service levels will be met for citizens, and not to rely on reserves to fund overages in the snow and ice removal budget, explained Doug Gilchrist, city manager.

Transportation

Council has concerns over funding in the 2023 preliminary budget for traffic calming in city neighbourhoods.

“I think requests outweigh funding,” said Coun. Loyal Wooldridge.

The amount set aside in the budget is $150,000.

“That seems too small with so many requests coming,” added Coun. Luke Stack. “We need to be doing more in this area, and I’m not comfortable with only $150,000.”

Council voted to defer the item to be discussed later today, to allow staff to come back with more information.

Parks

City council had questions and comments about a more than $900,000 budget item to replace public washrooms in Rotary Park.

Coun. Charlie Hodge called any washroom at that price a ‘Taj Mahal,’ while Coun. Gordon Lovegrove suggested the city may want to consider the ‘pay as you go’ model for public washrooms as seen in Europe.

Staff and council are going through funding requests from all departments in the 2023 preliminary budget. The net tax demand for 2023 is estimated at $173.8 million. It requires a proposed 4.01 per cent increase on the municipal portion of a property owner’s tax bill and includes a one per cent levy for community safety. The city’s total budget is $532 million.

“With inflation expected to be at eight per cent by the end of the year, there are cost pressures I haven’t seen in my 18 years with the city,” said Doug Gilchrist, city manager, as he introduced the budget to council.

The 2023 preliminary budget is available on the City of Kelowna website.


@GaryBarnes109
gary.barnes@kelownacapnews.com

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