It’s not every day that a civic bureaucrat gets choked up discussing the city’s budget.
But that happened Thursday, as Kelowna city manager Ron Mattiussi gave an impassioned speech to open the council’s 2016 budget deliberations, a budget he said could be his last after 20 years as the city’s top manager. Mattiussi has said he is considering retiring but has not publicly set a date.
Defending this year’s budget, Mattiussi choked up saying he does not listen to the “so-called experts” who spout what he called “pseudo voodoo economics” and purport to represent all taxpayers.
“I listen to this council and to the public,” he said, pausing to gather himself, his voice breaking. “We are trying to build a great city.”
Mattiussi said while some in the community have demanded council keep annual municipal tax hikes to two per cent, he said that is not always possible.
Two per cent, he said, was a figure attainable when “sidewalks were considered the gold standard” when it came to city infrastructure.
He added the city has changed a lot and is no longer dominated by “residents who are retired from Saskatchewan and living on fixed incomes in trailer parks.”
He pointed to a growing tech sector, the fact the city is one of the fastest growing metropolitan areas in the country, it now has a vibrant downtown, services the public say they are happy with, but also a requirement for more services, more police officers and more firefighters.
He said the city had inherited a water system that “Kazakstan would not have been proud of,” and it has cost money to improve.
This year’s provisional city budget calls for a 4.4 per cent tax increase, half of which is accounted for by the construction of the new police services building, the adding of six more police officers in last year’s budget and proposed additions to the the fire department.
Mayor Colin Basan, reminded councillors they were crafting this year’s budget for all residents of the city, not just a few critics.
“We are a growing city and there’s more pressure now than ever to add services,” he said.
Council will take all day to go overall the new budget requests and is expected to have honed the tax increase figure by the and of the day. Historically the figure does not change much from the figure going in based on the provisional budget presented to council by city staff at the start of the day.
This year the city is looking to take in about $127 million in tax revenue.