Kelowna city Coun. Tracy Gray.—Image credit: Capital News file

Kelowna budget approved—but not unanimously

City Coun. Tracy Gray opposes new city staff included in the 2017 budget.

Kelowna city council has approved its 2017 budget—but the vote was not unanimous.

Coun. Tracy Gray, who questioned the hiring of more city staff in the budget during deliberations on the annual final plan in December, said Monday she still has issues with adding more city staff so she could not vote to approve the budget as it was presented.

“I think that many of the positions are wants, not needs,” said Gray.

Despite her opposition, the budget was approved in a 8-1 vote.

Council shaved 0.02 per cent off the proposed residential tax hike it set earlier this year for 2017 thanks to better-than-expected new construction revenue. The municipal tax increase for 2017 will be 3.84 per cent.

“We often see changes between provisional and final budget,” said financial planning manager George King in his presentation to council Monday.

“New information is available between December and April, including emergent items, which are included in final budget. (In) this final budget, we saw a decrease in franchise fee revenues from Fortis BC due to lower commodity costs, and a funding request for construction of a 20-kilometre paddle trail from Bertram Creek to McKinley Landing. These adjustments were offset by an increase in new construction revenue.”

Council also approved the first phase of work on the new city amalgamated water plan that will see the South East Kelowna Irrigation District join the city’s water utility in 2020.

In the meantime, work will start on the $63 million multi-year, first phase of the plan, with $43 million to be covered by the federal and the provincial governments through a recently announced grant.

The first work will improve the water distribution infrastructure in what is now the SEKID system. It was considered the top priority for water improvement in the entire city.

Three other city water providers—Rutland Water Works, Glenmore-Ellison Irrigation District and Black Mountain Improvement District all remain outside the plan after balking at a provincial requirement that they amalgamate with the city’s water utility as a condition of getting future grants.

According to the budget, this year city hall will collect $126 million in taxes.

The total budget is just over $227 million when the $101 million Kelowna will collect for other taxing jurisdictions is factored in.

A city property tax bill includes other user fees such as curbside trash collection and levies for other taxing authorities such as the school district, the regional district, the Okanagan Regional Library, the regional hospital district and B.C. Assessment Authority.

The 3.84 per cent tax increase means the owner of a single-family home assessed at the city average of $556,210 will pay $1,932 for the municipal portion of their property taxes.

Taxation will account for approximately one-third of the city’s funding this year, with the other two-thirds coming from grants, city reserve funds and other fees and charges.

Previous years’ budget commitments, such as the new police services building on Clement Avenue and the city’s cost for the contract with the RCMP accounted for 1.56 per cent of this year’s 3.84 per cent increase.

This year’s budget also has future commitments that will affect future budgets, said King.

Council will start it’s deliberations for the 2018 budget this winter knowing it has already committed the equivalent of a 2.36 per cent tax increase thanks to prior years’ commitments.

In the past council has tried to keep the annual tax increase to around three per cent, in order to not only maintain existing programs and services but also add anything new that the city needs.

For more information about the City of Kelowna budget and to view the 2016 Financial Plan, go to the city’s website at kelowna.ca/budget.