Kelowna council has added 16 RCMP offiers, and six firefighters to the city in approving its proposed 2024 budget during all day deliberations on Dec. 7.
The proposed property tax increase is 4.75 per cent, down slightly from the original 4.76 per cent.
“As many of the councillors said community safety is one of our biggest issues and our top priority,” said Mayor Tom Dyas, following budget deliberations. “If we didn’t look at advancing those officers (and firerighters) we probably would have been around 4.5 (per cent) or somewhere in that range.”
Initially, the budget included 12 police officers and four firefighters, with the additional positions identified as Priority 2 items.
Two of the new RCMP positions will be funded from salary surplus, while the remaining two will be paid for through taxation.
During deliberations, RCMP Superintendent Kara Triance noted that the four extra officers are needed for the Community Safety Unit to staff downtown and Rutland, adding the detachment couldn’t staff both areas sufficiently without them.
She added that 16 officers will be added to Kelowna throughout next year.
Four of the firefighter positions were budgeted to create a new rescue squad at Station #2 (downtown), with staff telling council that it is the busiest fire hall in the country.
There was much debate over adding the additional positions to the budget.
“I don’t think this is this right move at this point,” said Coun. Luke Stack. “I see it as off the cuff without a business case.”
Staff told council that the fire department is undertaking strategic planning in 2024 which would give better understanding to future staffing levels.
“This is busiest hall in Canada with 4,700 calls,” said Coun. Mohini Singh. “What if we have another year like we had this year? I suggest we bite the bullet and be brave.”
Coun. Rick Webber disagreed.
“Cranking up people’s property taxes, I don’t know if there is anything brave in that.”
Coun. Gord Lovegrove preferred prioritizing the RCMP.
“If it’s one versus other, we need to cover Rutland,” he said.
Coun. Charlie Hodge sided with Singh.
“They need good support. This is an opportunity for us to show our support.”
Council heeded staff advice in deferring the Community Safety Action Plan, listed in the budget at $1.070 million. More work needs to be done on the plan and staff will report back to council prior to the final budget in the spring.
Another item council decided to include in the budget was $250,000 to accelerate the timeline for the annual spring sweeping of city streets of winter debris.
“There is an expectation from residents and for me it’s a health and safety issue,” said Lovegrove.
Council also voted to add $50,000 to the budget to assist with establishing a memorial to the five people who died when a crane collapsed in downtown Kelowna in 2021.
The estimated cost for the memorial is $300,000 with fundraising being carried out by the North Okangan Labour Council.
Several new city staff positions are included in the budget and Mayor Dyas noted that according to the city’s chief financial officer, Kelowna’s staffing levels are comparable to other municipalties with the same population.
“Because I was concerned are we in a position where we’re hiring too many individuals to run the operation. On a percentage per-thousand (residents) we’re one of the lower ones in British Columbia.”
Kelowna also has the second lowest proposed property tax hike in the province behind Burnaby.
The total taxation demand is $189,996,600 million, however, with $4,98 million coming from new construction revenue that amount is reduced to $185,016,600.
The proposed 4.75 per cent hike equates to a $112.74 yearly increase in property taxes ($9.39 per month) based on the average value single-detached home in Kelowna.
Coun. Ron Cannan was the lone vote against approving the budget.