Letter: Residents told no money for infrastructure

Basic personal and property safety maintenance ignored while deluxe West Kelowna city hall takes priority

To the editor:

The purpose of this letter is to provide an alternate perspective to that of the [West Kelowna] mayor’s, the majority of city councillors (not all) and those folks who support the YES campaign, including the developer who purports great economic benefits for Westbank. (Would a developer standing to make significant profit claim otherwise?) It should be noted that in truth all of these economic and social benefits being claimed as spin-offs from the civic centre development are being offered up as fact but in truth are unsubstantiated speculations on the future which no one can accurately predict.

The mayor has gone on record to say that fear exists that, “vital infrastructure upgrades will be sacrificed to build a new city hall.” As proof that these fears are unfounded he goes on to state that a myriad of “master plans” have been in development for many years and based on sound financial management practices, “We are sacrificing nothing.” (Mayor’s Message, West Kelowna News, July 2016 edition). It seems the mayor blames fear mongering citizens for opposition to his plans for development of the civic centre and asks that the debate be based on only the facts.

What seems quite clear, however, is that the mayor and those who support this development will be relying on the “facts” that best suit their goal. To assist that spin, more taxpayer dollars are being allocated to a professional ad company to polish the delivery of the message. This added expenditure follows on the heals of the alternate approval process which seemed like a blatant move to capitalize on voter apathy in order to slide the approval through without going to referendum. A misguided…move that failed at taxpayer’s expense.

A fact the mayor claims is that no tax increases will be forthcoming to support the building of the civic centre. The real fact is that a three per cent annual tax increased is already in place for years to come—(once a tax is in place does it ever get retracted?. At least a portion of this increase will go towards supporting this development and so such a statement is misleading. More debt to pay for, less tax going to truly essential infrastructure services and a depleted reserve fund are the real known financial outcomes of the civic centre.

In the West Kelowna Estates neighbourhood, where my wife and I have lived for the past 25 years, infrastructure degradation and neglect is everywhere we look. It exists in our local small regional park that has no safe entry for public use by local residents and the taxpayer-funded bridge and boardwalks put in by the RDCO before the city took over parks management have, under the city’s watch, rotted into complete disrepair. In addition the park that lies in the heart of one of the highest rated fire interface communities in B.C. is full of dead and dying trees that now pose a severe fire/falling hazard. Also neglected have been surface water drainage infrastructure such as ditch and culvert maintenance, curbing to deflect water away from properties and adequate drain collection boxes.

Residents here have been raising these matters to city staff and administration for years and on virtually every occasion we are told there is simply no money available to do the work. We are assured, however, that our concerns are important and will be incorporated into a master plan for future consideration if funding becomes available. We have asked that at least small allocations be set aside on an annual basis to address concerns over time, but this has never been done. On several specific matters we have been told by senior staff that work would be done, but it has not happened. So, the accumulation of neglect builds and nothing is done to address immediate risk issues and to mitigate liability.

Our neighbourhood is suffering infrastructure degradation due to lack of resources being allocated to maintain basic assets (and I bet we are not the only one) while our political leaders seem to have no problem finding the funds for their mega (‘legacy’) project that in reality will directly benefit a relatively small percentage of the population of West Kelowna.

A modest city hall to adequately house staff will need to be developed at some point. However, while basic infrastructure assets that have already been paid for, combined with risk factors that pose a direct threat to neighbourhoods are neglected, such nice-to-have but not essential projects should be delayed. Temporary quarters for civic staff may not be ideal but school district staff have been housed in such ‘temporary’ portables for years and likely will be long into the future as budgets require first priority to students. A similar scenario should be drawn for West Kelowna taxpaying citizens. If such a focus on expenditures was adopted then the mayor may well be able to truthfully state that, “We are sacrificing nothing.”

John Waters, West Kelowna

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