Kelowna city council has set a provisional 2017 property tax increase of 3.86 per cent.
After a day of budget deliberations at city hall that some councillors, and even Mayor Colin Basran, called one of the toughest in recent years, the proposed 4.4 per cent increase handed to council by staff heading into the deliberations was shaved down by just over 0.5 per cent with some big cuts.
Council decided not to include a plan to expand the existing volunteer-staffed fire hall in Glenmore and turn it into a fully staffed fire station with 12 full-time firefighters and not include two more police officers.
In what could be a controversial move, council decide to keep a plan to spend another $2.5 million to further renovate city hall in the budget, despite an attempt by one councillors to reduce it by $300,000.
Coun. Luke Stack said he felt it would send a good message to the public to show the city was tightening its own belt while cutting the firehall plan in Glenmore and the new police officers. The city hall renovations are being necessitated by an expected return of city employees currently working in leased space around the city, some of which will not be available in 2017.
Basran defended council’s move to cut the fire department requests and the police officers, saying the city has provided plenty of support for both the fire department and the RCMP in another areas of the budget, including large contract wage increases for both.
But he conceded, the city has no choice in the case of the RCMP contract, which is imposed on the city by the federal and provincial governments and the 2.5 per cent wage increase for firefighters is based on the increase awarded to their counterparts in the Lower Mainland.
The city saved a total of $620,000 by taking out the Glenmore firehall expansion and addition of the 12 new firefighters and $163,000 from not adding the two new RCMP officers.
Basran noted the city has added a total of 23 new police officers in the last five years.
“I think it’s time to press the pause button,” said the mayor.
This year more than half of the proposed tax increase was because of the city’s new police services building, currently under construction in Clement Avenue and the proposed addition of the new RCMP officers.
While the city did not add more police officers this year—it is still waiting to get the six new officers it agreed to pay for in the 2016 budget—it did add two more full-time and two part-time bylaw officers. They are expected to be on the job by the middle of 2017.
The bylaw officers are among 25 new city positions created by council in the budget.