Kelowna City Hall. (Michael Rodriguez - Capital News)

Kelowna City Hall. (Michael Rodriguez - Capital News)

UPDATE: Kelowna 2021 preliminary budget approved with 4% tax increase, 8 new cops

Council managed to lower tax burden by moving certain costs to be funded by reserves

Council approves 4.04% tax increase – 4:45 p.m.

Kelowna city council has given its stamp of approval to the 2021 preliminary budget, with some minor changes.

A full day of deliberations saw the 4.27 per cent proposed tax hike knocked down to 4.04 per cent as council shuffled funding for a couple of minor requests from taxation to reserves.

The $125,000 for a proposed building master plan will come from the municipal works reserve, and the almost $200,000 to hire a two-year term “champion of the environment” position will come from the city’s environmental contingency fund.

After nixing those costs from the tax burden, council approved the $526,400-cost of renovations to city hall.

Items council was considering adding to the budget, a bike lane snow removal study and additional sports court cleaning efforts, didn’t go ahead.

One cost could still be added to the budget before its final approval in May 2021. Council was torn over adding $100,000 in funding to the Journey Home Society, ultimately deciding to put it on hold until it receives a report from the organization in early 2021. If approved, the tax hike would increase to 4.11 per cent.

Eight new cops approved — 3:15 p.m.

Kelowna council has approved a budget request for eight new RCMP members.

The new officers likely won’t arrive in the city until Fall 2021 or later. The 11 officers approved in the 2020 budget have still yet to arrive at the detachment.

Council says this puts the city on track to add 56 new officers by 2025, as outlined in a report on the city’s policing needs presented to council last year.

The Kelowna detachment’s new top cop, Supt. Kara Triance said this allows the city to maintain a 1:700 ratio for officers to residents.

Triance said the caseload Kelowna officers currently handle is higher than municipalities of similar sizes. She attributes that, in part, to the large tourist population the city sees every summer.

Council acknowledged that they’ve received significant feedback from the community asking that the city not add more officers, but cited the deficit of officers noted in the report last year.

“We get a lot of correspondence from the public requesting RCMP members not be added… that would have an impact on the day-to-day operations,” Coun. Brad Sieben said.

The officers approved in the 2020 budget are set to arrive early next year. Triance said those officers will be allocated largely to serious crimes and allow the investigation section to operate 24/7.

One officer will be assigned to a training position, something the Kelowna detachment currently lacks.

“We’re the largest detachment of our size without a training position,” Triance said.

More Journey Home funding considered — 2:40 p.m.

Kelowna city council will consider giving an additional $100,000 in funding to the Journey Home Society.

The funds would be in addition to the $150,000 the city already gives to Journey Home on a daily basis.

“This is an organization tasked with our top priority,” said Mayor Colin Basran, adding he is fully in support and will move for it to be adopted in the budget at the end of the day.

The organization, which does not have charitable status, has had a rough time fundraising during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Additional funding would contribute to lived experience and youth programs, marketing and communications, and performance management and reporting to inform data-driven decision making.

Community signature event — 2:26 pm.

Kelowna council has approved $50,000 in funding to host a new signature event to fill the hole left by the Regatta.

According to the 2021 preliminary budget, “there’s currently not an event that fully embraces Kelowna’s identity.”

Council debated the idea, specifically airing concerns regarding the COVID-19 pandemic and whether now is the right time to take this endeavour.

“I can not for one second support this right now,” said Coun. Charlie Hodge. “Not in this budget.”

However, council did support the initiative citing the need for hope, better times ahead and the ability to shift plans to a later date if things don’t turn around.

City staff are hopeful that the event can start as a smaller event in summer 2021 before expanding to a larger annual event in subsequent years.

More sport court cleaning — 1:40 p.m.

Kelowna council is looking at significantly expanding the sport court cleaning budget.

As a priority one request in the 2021 preliminary budget, staff suggested an additional $10,000 on top of the current $9,900 budget.

In addition to that, a priority two request will be considered at the end of the day for an additional $20,000.

Snow removal from bike lanes — 12:45 p.m.

The commissioning of a study regarding snow on bike lanes will get a second look from city council at the end of the day.

Currently, the city uses bike lanes as winter snow storage for travel lanes and sidewalks and the cost of removing snow from those lanes is “prohibitive.”

If approved, the study would add $20,000 to the budget and would determine the best way to clear bike lanes of snow without significant budget impact. If approved, the study would be complete by the end of 2021.

Being a priority two item, this cost would be added to the tax burden.

Heading into the lunch break, council has marked three priority one items for reconsideration, amounting to around $850,000 of the budget.

Building master plan to get a second look — 12:05 p.m.

Council will take another look at a proposed $125,000 development of a building master plan.

The plan is set to take stock of and assess infrastructure renewal and new construction to match growth.

So far, three items have been marked for reconsideration, amounting to around $850,000 of the budget.

‘Champion of the environment’ wanted — 11:20 a.m.

The city is looking at hiring somebody to take on the city’s climate change goals, though city council has concerns regarding their pay.

The 2021 budget requests funding to hire a “champion of the environment” in a two-year term position. The cost to taxpayers would be nearly $200,000 in both 2021 and 2022 — about $125,000 of which would be salary. The rest would be for benefits and consulting costs. Council has starred the item and will revisit it at the end of the day.

The person in the role would help the city achieve environmental goals, helping to focus and bolster current environmental efforts.

They will lead a comprehensive review of the environmental policies, programs and actions and provide a comprehensive report with a series of recommendations for improvements and coordination. The position will also provide expert advice on environmental matters.

Questioned by council as to why the city couldn’t allocate the work within its current staff, city manager Doug Gilchrest said that would mean forgoing work that those staff members are currently doing, which he said was not feasible.

Coun. Maxine DeHart, while supportive of the role, said that the cost seems to be relatively high and she was hoping for a lower-salaried position.

Coun. Gail Given said that you could hire a regular staff member to tackle such initiatives for less, but the city would get less out of it.

City hall renos could be delayed again — 10:15 a.m.

City council will revisit potential renovations to city hall at the end of the day.

Councillors expressed concern about the proposed $4.7-million basement renovation project, of which taxation would cover $526,400.

The renovations, which have twice faced delays in 2017 and 2020, will allow staff currently occupying leased space on Lawrence Avenue to move into city hall.

Mayor Basran said he respected that councillors are looking to be responsible given the current circumstances, but it’s better in the long run to go forward with it now.

“Playing the long game, this will save us more money and be more fiscally prudent going forward,” Basran said, citing a lesser reliance on leased spaces.

Coun. Charlie Hodge contested, “I’m trying to find a spot to pare [the tax demand] back a bit. I’m not doing it to be seen; I think this is one spot we can do it.

Council moved to “star” the item, coming back to debate it at the end of the day.

More inspections needed — 9:35 a.m.

The Kelowna Fire Department is requesting one new fire inspector to help it catch up on building inspections.

Fire Chief Travis Whiting said the department is again lagging in terms of the number of inspections it can do, only making it to about 80 per cent of the places they should.

The department will, however, use $50,000 to support the analysis of future station locations for a new Glenmore fire hall.

Airport sees expected decrease — 9:20 a.m.

The Kelowna International Airport budget is in an entirely different spot than it was a year ago.

While last year the airport was preparing to hit more than 2.5 million passengers a year, passenger numbers nosedived amid the pandemic, as did ticket sales.

YLW seeing a revenue/budget decrease to $29 million from more than $56 million in 2019.

The airport does not have any impact on the tax burden.

Mayor Basran said the airport continues to be a leader, “not only in Canada, but across North America.”

In terms of projects, council approved $1.6 million for airside and groundside equipment replacement, air terminal building improvements and support for AIF Program initiatives.

‘Before we begin’ — 9:10 a.m.

Prior to beginning budget deliberations, Kelowna Mayor Colin Basran said its important for the city to stick to its financial guns to ensure it can weather the storm in the long term.

“Kelowna is a community that continues to attract new residents,” said Mayor Colin Basran. “Our population grew faster in 2020 than expected.”

He said the city needs to invest accordingly now to accommodate that enormous anticipated growth. Basran also reminded residents municipalities are not permitted to run a deficit.

City manager Doug Gilchrest said it’s important to recognize some residents are struggling but long term, the budget “reflects [council’s] priorities and the needs of our community.”

You can view the proceedings live here.

And they’re off – 9 a.m.

Kelowna city council has begun its deliberations on the city’s 2021 budget and by the end of the day, residents will have a better idea of what their next municipal tax bill will look like.

A preliminary version of the budget is calling for a 4.27 per cent increase in taxes — equivalent to a $90 annual increase ($7.50 per month) for the average single-detached home, according to the city.

City council will deliberate the 476-page document in full throughout the day.

Some of the more significant costs and projects outlined in the budget include eight new RCMP members, at a cost of nearly $400,000 in 2021 and rising to more than $1.4 million in the following two years; $33.4 million in renewal and upgrade projects; $12.7 million to develop more parks and green space; $1.9 million in new transportation projects; and almost $600,000 in support programs and initiatives to address the city’s complex social issues.

The sector with the largest budget increase is community safety, increasing $3.1 million to $43.6 million. About 91 per cent of that is allocated to the RCMP, which has a $39.4-million budget, an increase of $2.8 million. Bylaw services saw an increase of $36,000, bringing it to a total budget of $2.7-million. The rest of the community safety budget — around $1.5 million, an increase of $290,000 — is allocated to various safety and crime prevention projects.

You can view the budget in full on the city’s website.

A similarly sized tax hike of 4.47 per cent was proposed in Vernon’s 2020 budget deliberations, but council whittled it down to just 2.13 per cent, largely by pausing the infrastructure levy program — responsible for 1.9 per cent of the tax burden — for one year.

Last year, Kelowna halved its 2020 budget’s 4.15 per cent tax increase when it was given final approval in May, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The total tax increase from 2019 to 2020 ended up being 2.05 per cent.

Stay tuned here for live updates as deliberations progress.

READ MORE: Big-ticket public hearing in Kelowna rescheduled for new year

READ MORE: Kelowna city councillor voices support for Indian farmers

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