The Kelowna RCMP got more than it bargained for going into last week’s city budget deliberations.
Residents are now facing a 4.15 per cent tax increase next year largely due to council’s approval of 11 new RCMP officers — four more than the detachment had requested.
The 2020 provisional budget initially called for a 3.9 per cent tax increase, but the additional $360,000 approved by council to add the extra four Mounties boosted the tax increase to 4.15 per cent.
That increase amounts to $86 a year, or $7.17 per month, for an average single-detached home property tax bill in Kelowna.
City taxes are only one portion of a property tax bill, which also includes other amounts the city collects on behalf of the province, the RDCO, school and library levies.
According to the city’s finance director Genelle Davidson, adding the additional police officers will also inflate the 2021 and 2022 tax increases by 0.25 per cent.
The city’s projections for both of those budgets predicts tax hikes over five per cent.
Kelowna RCMP Supt. Brent Mundle said six of the 11 new officers would be used as community support officers so police can spend more time on foot in areas that need it.
Four officers will also be allotted for investigative support roles and one will be a school support officer.
The request by RCMP for the additional officers was tabled by Coun. Maxine DeHart.
“All we hear from our residents is, ‘Safety, safety, safety,’” she said.
“I think we should take the plunge…We have to be brave to do these things.”
Mayor Colin Basran said this is not council trying to solve the city’s social issues with more arrests.
“Certainly protective service and public safety is something we’ve heard loud and clear as something that has to be addressed,” he said.
“We are also cognizant of the fact that hiring more officers does not fix our social issues.
“We need to continue to advance Journey Home, get people housed and the supports they need, but enforcement is also an important part of a safe community overall.”
Couns. Loyal Wooldridge, Gail Given and Luke Stack voted against the proposal.
Fourteen safety-related civilian support positions were also added, bringing city’s total investment in community safety up to $1.4 million.
“We are committed to strong financial management and being accountable to public funds,” said George King, the city’s financial planning manager.
“Council has approved the provisional budget which prioritizes keeping taxation demand as low as possible while ensuring we keep pace with the cost increases required to maintain existing levels of service and support our rapidly growing community.
“Most budget requests, 69 per cent, are funded from sources other than taxation such as fees, reserves and grants.”
According to the city, taxation generates $5.92 million and accounts for 31 per cent of the needed revenue for 2020.
Going forward, the infrastructure levy will generate $5.6 million annually to help bridge the infrastructure deficit identified in the 10-Year Capital Plan.
“Our budget process supports delivering results outlined in council’s priorities, as well as advancing the community’s Imagine Kelowna vision,” said King.
“Making sure the public feels safe, creating great public spaces, embracing diverse transportation options, supporting innovation and economic resiliency, and protecting our environment by taking action in the face of climate change are all reflected within the 2020 budget.”
Notable projects confirmed in the budget include the much-anticipated construction of Pandosy Waterfront Park, a potential partnership between the city and school district to replace Parkinson Recreation Centre and $230,000 allotted for planning a multi-year expansion of the Capital News Centre.
The city has until May to finalize the 2020 budget.