Kelowna cashed in on capital projects

The local economy may still be struggling through tough times but that didn’t stop the City of Kelowna from spending big on capital projects in 2010.

With a plethora of funds available from various provincial and federal stimulus programs, Kelowna notched up its biggest year ever for capital spending last year, shelling out $200 million for everything from parks, roads and bridges to pathways and transit projects.

“There’s no doubt about it, we got a lot done last year,” said city manager Ron Mattiussi. But he warned there will not be as much capital work done by the city next year.

The reason is that Kelowna, like other municipalities across the country, took advantage of millions of dollars in one-time stimulus spending grants from the provincial and federal governments.

And much of that money will not be available next year.

“In most cases, we were spending 30-cent dollars,” said Mattiussi, meaning two-thirds of the total bill for each project came from the higher levels of government—Victoria and Ottawa.

Mattiussi said Kelowna was successful in getting the grants because of its planning and that resulted in the projects undertaken last year being “shovel-ready” when the stimulus funds became available.

The city also created a new position with its recent corporate restructuring that focuses strictly on identifying and applying for grants to help fund civic projects.

City grants manager Lorna Gunn is credited for a dogged persistence in finding and successfully applying for grants on the city’s behalf.

But while last year’s capital spending set a record, the amount of work is expected to drop next year. According to the man who co-ordinates capital spending for the city, infrastructure planing director Randy Cleveland, that does not mean Kelowna is easing up on the amount of money it is seeking in grants.

Cleveland told the Capital News on Monday the city has already applied for $7.8 million to replace the Lakeshore bridge and another $5 million for an energy reduction plan for all civic buildings, including the Kelowna airport.

Other projects like the $4 million construction of a new seniors centre at the Parkinson Recreation Centre and construction of a new building at the Kelowna landfill will proceed next year even if assistance grants cannot be found to help pay for the work.

Mattiussi says a drop in the amount of capital spending by the city next year is not expected to result in layoffs of city staff.

More than a third of city capital work is handled by outside contractors. Without the projects, the city will simply not hire the outside firms to do the work, he said.

Still, construction jobs are already leaving this area and heading to Alberta, where that province’s economy is considered to be “firing back up,” he admits.

Mattiussi said while it’s not the city’s role to create jobs, it is important it create a climate for job creation. “That is what we are trying to do here by making this a good place to live, a place people want to come to,” he said.

While admitting the economy here is still struggling, the city manager said because there are many here who do not derive their income directly from within the community, the picture can appear different than it is at times.

He said unlike Vancouver, where offshore money is still helping fuel construction demand and Calgary where the economy continues to be strong, Kelowna is feeling the pinch. But he said the city continues to invest in what he called lifestyle, offering a good level of services for one of the lower residential tax rates in the province.

City officials feel that will make Kelowna a desirable place to be and help bring back the once buoyant local construction industry.


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