Late last year, when Kelowna city council hunkered down to go over its 2019 budget, it approved the inclusion of an additional 1.95 per cent “levy” to help pay for future infrastructure.
The levy was added to the 2.68 per cent tax hike the city said will pay for operating and maintaining existing services and adding any new ones, along with any requisite new employees and equipment.
Suffice to say, the levy hasn’t gone over well with a lot of people. After all, nobody likes paying more tax.
But the city, like many others across the nation, is caught in a bind. The cost of infrastructure to the city over the next decade is going to be around $1.5 billion unless it takes a cleaver to its 10-year capital plan. And based on current revenues, city hall is going to come up about $480 million short.
So how does it find the money?
The levy is only part of the answer. As council was told Monday, while the city may be able to go after grants from the province and feds, it‘ll also have to change the way it does things.
It will have to be more proactive in how it deals with future needs, it’ll have to reach out to others, not just government, for help and it’ll have to wrestle down one of the biggest problems it has faced over the years—developmental sprawl. The reality is simple, the farther out you build, the farther you have to take services such as roads, sewers and water lines.
Development cost charges—the money developers pay as their share of providing those services—will only go so far.
And then there’s the cost of maintaining, repairing and replacing what the city already has in place.
Council didn’t need to be reminded, but a new city report laid it all out for it again, Monday.
So the question—as it always is when it comes to calls for less city spending—is if higher taxes are not part of the answer, what should be cut to reduce spending. The answer will differ depending on who you ask. And some will simply say make do with what you have.
Being elected to public office is about making choices once you take your seat at the table. And like it or not, Kelowna’s mayor and council have made a choice—going forward taxes will be a little higher than the immediate needs call for.
But isn’t that what reserves are for — putting money aside for future needs?
It’s easy to point the finger of blame at past councils for not addressing future infrastructure needs sooner. But “coulda, woulda, shoulda” won’t pay the bills that are coming due. Action is needed to stop the city’s infrastructure requirements from falling farther behind.
As tough as it is to swallow, the bitter pill of future taxes to pay for infrastructure appears looks like it could be an annual thing.
Alistair Waters is the assistant editor of the Capital News.
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