West Kelowna on path toward second straight 3% tax increase

West Kelowna has given first reading to the 2013 financial plan with a proposed tax increase of three per cent.

Deputy chief financial officer Tanya Garost and chief financial officer Jim Zaffino presented the 2013 draft budget to West Kelowna councillors Tuesday. The entire meeting was spent deliberating the financial plan.

West Kelowna has given first reading to the 2013 financial plan with a proposed tax increase of three per cent.

Council members came to that resolution after a five-hour session spent analyzing the district’s operational budget, 2013 capital requests, FTE requests and grant-in-aid proposals.

In December 2012 district staff suggested there would be $98,416 in discretionary funds for council to utilize; however, that number was increased to $811,525 after it was determined internal borrowing from the regional district to construct Royal LePage Place ended in 2012, not 2013 as initially reported.

Council debated whether it should use those funds to lower the tax increase: If all funds were used, the tax hike could be as low as one per cent.

“There are a lot of people who are hurting out there, who can’t afford this three per cent increase,” said Coun. David Knowles.

“I think we should be competitive with our neighbouring communities.”

He suggested the tax increase should be dropped to 1.9 per cent.

Mayor Doug Findlater said there are pros and cons to reducing the tax increase.

“Hopefully we’ll have the opportunity to bring it down somewhat,” said Findlater.

“But, on the other hand, we are still a young municipality. We’ve inherited old infrastructure: Lots of stuff was not maintained to the level that it should be. Deferring a lot of those things too long is only going to cost us more.”

All council members present unanimously agreed to set the tax increase at three per cent for now; Knowles had to leave the meeting shortly before the vote took place.

“This is a no-frills budget. We’re not playing fast and loose with taxpayer dollars,” said Coun. Bryden Winsby.

“I think it’s unfair to leave the impression or allow taxpayers to compare ourselves with neighbouring communities…we simply have to build reserves, we have no choice.”

This year is the district’s first budget without funding assistance from the provincial government for RCMP or restructuring.

The biggest increase in the district’s operating budget this year is road maintenance, followed by bylaw operations and policing.

A public presentation will be scheduled for February and council will likely adopt a finalized version of the budget in April.