Small turnout to discuss West Kelown’s budget

Workshop attracts just 12 people.

It was a better turnout than the last time West Kelowna council asked the public to participate in a budget review session— but it still only attracted a handful of people.

Twelve residents showed up to talk with the mayor, councillors and municipal staff earlier this week in Westbank about the 2011 municipal budget and answer five questions aimed at garnering pubic response.

The questions asked about raising taxes to get more revenue, the proposed 4.07 per cent property tax increase, taxes on light industry in West Kelowna, the state of current and future reserves, and the annual citizens’ survey.

With so few people on hand, the group was divided into three tables, each with a councillor or two participating in the conversation.

Participants at each table discussed the questions and reported their opinions back to the room.

The tables were divided on the question of raising taxes to increase revenue, with two saying neither higher taxes nor higher user fees should be implemented, while the third suggested hiking taxes.

Council was told to focus on fiscal restraint instead by one of the groups.

The proposed tax increase also split the room, with one table saying it should be higher—five per cent—another saying it should be lower—2.5 per cent—and the third split down the middle agreeing and disagreeing with the figure.

The table that wanted the increase to be smaller said deeper spending cuts need to be made by council.

As for the reserves, which are forecast to come in at $21.8 million by the end of 2011, the level was seen as good by some but too high by others.

When incorporation for the area was being discussed, it was predicted that only $15 million would have been set aside in reserves five years after West Kelowna came into existence.

The people at the meeting who felt the figure was too high said taxes could be lower with a lower amount going to reserves.

The citizens’ survey, which the municipality conducts each year, was criticized by one group as being too influenced by seniors and thus not truly representative of the entire municipality.

Mayor Doug Findlater said despite the differing opinions, he considered the workshop a success and believed there is a “a fair bit” of support for the direction the municipality is moving in as it relates to its finances.

“It will be up to council to sort out the somewhat conflicting results,” he added.

While the municipality’s $77 million budget must be finalized by May,  chief financial officer Jim Zaffino said council plans to have it wrapped up in April this year.

In 2011, the municipality plans to collect $22 million in property taxes from its residents.