West Kelowna RCMP Staff Sgt. Duncan Dixon speaks to mayor and council during a special budget meeting, Dec. 10. (City of West Kelowna)

West Kelowna RCMP Staff Sgt. Duncan Dixon speaks to mayor and council during a special budget meeting, Dec. 10. (City of West Kelowna)

Update: West Kelowna council endorses preliminary 4.75 per cent tax increase

On Dec. 10 mayor and council debated 2021-2025 Financial Plan in a special council meeting

Update:

The City of West Kelowna gave first reading to endorse a preliminary 4.75 per cent increase in taxes for West Kelowna residents.

However staff said the day after their meeting that a few proposed financial items were rejected by council, so the number is subject to change.

Second reading of the 2021-2025 Financial Plan is set to take place in mid to late February. Before it is approved, the City is set to receive input from the public.

Original:

The City of West Kelowna is proposing a 4.75 per cent increase in taxes.

Mayor and council are currently debating their 2021-2025 Financial Plan in a special council meeting on Dec. 10. Council’s discussion on this is live.

The proposed tax increase would put the city’s total budget at $36,559,184, up $2,150,541 from 2020. This proposed 4.75 per cent increase would mean an increase of $77 per household, totalling $2,131 per household, per year.

In 2020, taxes went up 2.8 per cent. The budget for 2020 was originally projected to be 4.8 per cent, however, the city cut its taxes by 2 per cent when COVID-19 arrived in the province. It’s unclear how this has affected the overall 2021 budget, if at all.

Speaking to an increased need for infrastructure and construction costs, CAO Paul Gipps said he understands a 4.7 per cent increase is a ‘large pill to swallow’ but that ‘we have to move forward’.

The 2021 budget also has been forced to account for a $680,900 drop in facility revenue, due to a reduction in ice and hall rentals.

Major projects on the go include building the Rose Valley Water Treatment Plant (est. completion 2022), building a new city hall, as well as upgrading roads and infrastructure, projects that Gipps estimated to cost over $100,000,000 over the coming years.

Largest departmental increases

The largest change in expenses next year is projected to come from protective services, which include the fire department and RCMP funding. An increase of $542,391, or 3.4 per cent, would bring the protective service’s budget up to $16,321,693.

The largest percentage change, 10.7 per cent, comes from the corporate initiatives and communications sector, for additional funding of $91,052, and a total cost of $942,899.

Staff also proposed a substantial increase to infrastructure, which would result in a one per cent tax increase per household.

New policing positions

Part of this increase is a result of two new approved police positions; one as a call handler and one in the RCMP’s community safety unit.

This new call handler, the first of its kind, will allow the West Kelowna RCMP Detachment to offer 24-hour coverage.

Council was very much in support of hiring a new position to handle 24-7 non-emergency calls in West Kelowna. Currently, there is no one to pick up the phone on the Westside after hours, for non-emergency calls. These calls are filtered through Kelowna RCMP’s dispatch centre.

It was explained that the West Kelowna RCMP detachment should be operating as a Level C detachment; without this person, they are not.

“I don’t want to see Kelowna covering costs that fall squarely on West Kelowna,” said coun. Rick De Jong.

Additionally, council approved another new police position, in the RCMP’s community safety unit, for a cost of $150,000. As the member will not be arriving for at least 12 months, council pushed back half the cost to next year’s budget, with the additional $75,000 to be covered by reserve funds.

West Kelowna RCMP Staff Sgt. Duncan Dixon explained the addition of one member would take their community safety unit to four members, a complete squad. This, he said, would allow them to take on larger projects and further surveillance.

Other new positions hired

Council approved the hiring of a new business licensing supervisor at a cost of $108,807, to help offset and streamline the business licensing process. Currently, the process to approve a business licence takes roughly three months. Council spoke in favour of improving this, however, debated the need for a supervisor position in a new role. Despite a divided room, the motion to hire was passed.

Several other positions were approved including a human resources assistance and mechanical assistant.

Before budget delegations on Dec. 10, the city’s Police Services reserve sat at about $550,000.

Infrastructure and water upgrades

The majority of the city’s revenue comes from property and utility taxes. A projected $37,372,217 revenue stream for 2021 equates to 62.89 per cent of the total revenue.

Other significant increases include a roughly $540,000 increase in water costs, equal to 5.1 per cent and a $128,000 increase in communications costs, equal to 43.7 per cent, to hire a new supervisor and student. This is awaiting approval.

One per cent of the proposed 2021 budget, equal to about $360,000, comes from a new proposal to increase funding for infrastructure. This is awaiting approval.

(City of West Kelowna)

To pay for this, CAO Paul Gipps proposed using a one per cent tax increase per household to take part in advance borrowing, to meet current construction costs. This would be paid off over the coming years.

Many councillors spoke highly of the proposed increase in infrastructure funding.

One of the many projects includes Gellatly Road North and Carrington Road intersection improvements, which would total 2,500,000 in cost.

“The benefit is completely realized by our residents. The investment is far greater than asphalt and concrete,” said Coun. Johnston. He also quoted this as an opportunity to nurture local employment in the community.

He said by the end of the budget meeting when they look at a 4.7 per cent increase, he hopes to see more than a one per cent increase in infrastructure.

A new Asphalt Hot-Box equipment truck, for a cost of $103,000, is also said to better improve the longevity of pothole replacement.

This story will be updated as more decisions come through. A final update will be posted tomorrow, Dec. 11.

This story previous stated that the City’s reserves sat at about $550,000. This however is just the reserve for the City’s Police Services sector.

Do you have something to add to this story, or something else we should report on? Email: phil.mclachlan@kelownacapnews.com


 

@newspaperphil
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