In the end, Vernon council chose Option 2 for its 2022 budget.
Council voted at the end of budget deliberations Monday, Nov. 29, by a margin of 5-1, in favour of a 6.88 per cent budget increase next year, which includes hiring more safety personnel and the return of the 1.9 per cent infrastructure levy, paused in 2021 due to COVID.
The cumulative infrastructure levy was established in 2013 as a 10-year program, to provide the necessary funds to repair or replace aging infrastructure and establish a stronger foundation for future community needs such as improvements to municipal roads, storm sewer management systems, public buildings and parks.
It has been very successful for the city.
Option 1 was a nearly eight per cent hike (7.66 per cent) and Option 3 was 4.98 per cent.
While he did favour the budget, Mayor Victor Cumming was the lone person voting in opposition due to the 1.9 per cent infrastructure levy. He wanted it deferred for another year.
“The bottom half (of all our residents) are stressed, the top half is not,” said Cumming. “It’s a timing issue. This is going to be a significant issue for those on the bottom.”
Earlier in the day during public presentations, former councillor and current council byelection candidate Catherine Lord wanted council to go with Option 3, the lowest percentage budget hike of 4.98 per cent and deferring the infrastructure levy for a year.
“The median income in Vernon is $31,455, that means there are as many people who have less than that figure than as are above it,” said Lord, who joked she was channeling former colleague, late councillor Bob Spiers, who kept council’s ‘financial feet to the fire, particularly at budget time,’ during her presentation.
“There are 29 per cent of households rented. And under 25 per cent rented for those 65 and over, many on fixed pensions. This concerns me because house prices have gone up so much and there’s been a significant increase in food prices in the last while and probably in the future as well.”
Dawn Tucker, a 2018 council candidate, was the only other member of the public who spoke, and she was in favour of not deferring the infrastructure levy.
The city is responsible for a contract with the RCMP which is going up 2.32 per cent. Two new firefighters will also be hired as part of the new budget.
Coun. Kari Gares said nobody wants a tax increase and that “everybody would love to see zero per cent.”
“We don’t know what’s coming a year from now, or two, and if we continue to defer (infrastructure levy), maybe we’ll see seven, eight or nine per cent,” she said. “It’s just downloading onto future councils.”
The 2022 budget maintains core municipal services and reaffirms council’s commitment to community safety and a comprehensive response to climate change.
“The health and safety of our community is paramount,” said Cumming. “The 2022 budget provides the necessary resources to support the daily efforts of the Vernon North Okanagan RCMP and Vernon Fire Rescue Services, and maintains essential services our citizens rely upon.”
The overall budget increase includes 2.32 per cent for RCMP services. This follows the ratification of the first negotiated collective agreement for RCMP regular members. In 2022, the agreement will add more than $1 million to the city operating budget to retain all current policing resources. In addition to the collective agreement change, council endorsed the creation of three new support staff positions for the RCMP detachment.
The addition of two new firefighters in 2022 follows a challenging fire season in 2021, and for three of the past five years.
A new position will be created in 2022 to guide the implementation of the Climate Action Plan. This employee will work with all city divisions to find efficiencies and implement strategies to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from city-operated buildings and activities.
Vernon’s 2022 capital program will include more than $18 million in projects. Some of the larger projects include:
Silver Star Road multi-use path (Phase 2) between Pleasant Valley Road and Blackcomb Way – $1.99M;
Trenchless storm and culvert rehabilitation – $1.2M;
Tronson Road sewer force main replacement – $2.12M;
Okanagan Landing sanitary sewer collector pipe installation – $1.06M;
Lake access improvements on Okanagan Landing Road, Tronson Road and Lakeshore Road – $880K.
Council approved a small number of service level increases to support municipal operations, including the addition of a communications officer, operating funds to maintain the Civic Memorial Park (former Vernon Civic Arena site) once construction is complete, enhanced turf cleaning to remove goose droppings at Kin Beach, Polson and Paddlewheel Parks; and provide additional administrative support for the 0perations division.
Council is expected to give three readings of the 2022 financial plan bylaw at its Dec. 13 regular meeting, and adoption would be required by Jan. 10, 2022.