Kelowna city council has approved its provisional 2018 budget with a municipal tax increase of 3.6 per cent.
The increase, just a fraction higher than the 3.59 per cent proposed when council started its day-long deliberations Thursday morning, reflected a spending plan that changed little during course of the day as councillors went through it item by item.
“A lot of the expenses were in relation to public safety,” said Mayor Colin Basran following the provisional budget’s approval.
And that was not lost on several of his councillors, including Coun. Tracey Gray who dubbed the financial plan a “safety” budget.
The budget calls for, among other things, the hiring 12 more firefighters, buying a new fire truck at a cost of nearly $1 million, upgrading the current unmanned Glenmore fire hall to make it a full-time fire station, hiring four more officers and five civilian support workers for the RCMP, paying for round-the-clock monitoring of public safety surveillance cameras downtown, installing traffic calming measures around the city to slow traffic and a host of other public safety-oriented expenditures. It also includes mandated pay hikes for both the RCMP and firefighters.
Throughout the day, council varied little from the budget they were originally presented with by city staff.
Basran said it was clear city manger Ron Mattiussi and his staff had done “the heavy lifting” beforehand, as they was basically nothing for council to cut out of the budget. But there was plenty that could have been added if council wanted a bigger tax increase.
Both he and Mattiussi said this year, many of the priority 2 items—requests listed for council’s consideration but not actually part of the budget—would have been included as actual budget items in previous years. But not this year.
Mattiussi said one reason for that was because it was known going in that the Glenmore fire hall-related requests alone made up 1.5 per cent of the 3.59 per cent proposed increase for 2018. When wage increases were factored in, that jumped to two per cent. That meant there was little room for extras.
Still, councillors expressed happiness with the budget, feeling the right balance was struck between providing what the city needs to maintain services, cover growth and add where required, and what it can afford.
“I think we struck a balance today,” said Coun. Luke Stack, a veteran of 10 city budgets.
“Staff only asked for what they really need,” added Coun. Maxine DeHart. “Mostly what was added was pretty nominal.”
There were some big ticket items however, but they tended to be there to either address the city’s growth or protect existing infrastructure, such as $4.4 million to repave roads, $3.5 million for active transportation projects, $1.5 million for new sidewalks and another $1.5 million for cycle paths.
In the end, council added just three items to the $134 million budget, including a new lighting technician at the Kelowna Community Theatre ($49,780), the traffic calming measures in Rutland ($39,000) and 24-hour monitoring of pubic surveillance security cameras downtown ($30,000).
But even then a way was found to offset the additional costs by taking $100,000 from the public building reserve in order to keep the proposed increase virtually the same as it was when the process started.
For Mattiussi, the budget was his last, as he has announced he plans to retire next year after 22 years with the city, 13 as city manager.
Unlike last year, when he choked up speaking about the fact that the 2017 budget may be his last budget, this year he laughed.
“It’s all over but the crying,” he quipped
And then he told council about a hand-written letter he received from a local woman who donated $20 to the city as her way of helping it pay for what it needs.
“It’s probably the best letter I ever received doing this job, said Matttiussi.
During the budget , it was noted in the annual city citizen’s survey, the city regularly gets top marks for the value it provides in return for the taxes it receives from residents.
Basran said he is proud of the fact Kelowna has the fifth lowest tax rate of the 16 cities in B.C. with populations over 75,000.
One outstanding issue from the 2018 provisional budget deliberations however has yet to be settled. That’s a plan to complete the next two phases of work to improve Rutland Centennial Park.
It was in this year’s budget but was predicated on the city receiving a Canada 150 grant from the federal government. That grant did not come through, and the plan to complete work was shelved. It did not make it into the 2018 budget at all.
But at the request of the mayor, council voted to have city staff report back on a way to move it into the 2018 budget and Basran said that will be discussed in January.
The final budget must be approved by the end of April.
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