Kelowna City Hall. (Michael Rodriguez - Capital News)

Kelowna City Hall. (Michael Rodriguez - Capital News)

Kelowna mayor outlines city’s economic, public health response amid COVID-19

The city announced a hold on hiring; 90 positions remain vacant and 64 have been laid off

Kelowna Mayor Colin Basran further outlined the city’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic during a March 30 online conference with local media.

The mayor explained more measures being taken in terms of both the economy and public health.

Budget to be reduced

The city will make changes to its 2020 budget before it goes to council in April.

In December, the budget was approved with a 4.15 per cent tax increase, which the mayor said will likely be lower come the final adoption.

“The city’s economic approach during this pandemic is two-pronged: tighten our belts and be a catalyst for economic recovery,” said Basran. “Every dollar we spend has a direct economic impact in our community. We’re aware that anything we cancel or postpone has an impact on someone or some business locally.”

Though no number has been announced by the city as of yet, staff have been directed to reduce operating budgets through cuts to non-essential spending.

The city has frozen its hiring practices, leaving about 90 vacant positions. Two weeks ago, the city laid off 64 permanent part-time staff. City manager Doug Gilchrest said more layoffs could be possible if the pandemic persists and more cost-cutting measures are needed.

Capital projects are also being reviewed, to identify potential deferrals and capital expansions at the Kelowna International Airport have been minimized. The mayor said operations at the airport will be reduced in line with current airline traffic.

“Council’s expectation is the final budget, slated to be presented to council on April 27, will look different than the one approved in late 2019,” said the mayor.

Basran said local governments cannot run deficits like higher levels of government can and must continue to provide many essential services the community relies on including but not limited to police services, fire, water, roads and transportation and solid waste.

The city is also working on an approach to coordinate efforts of the Central Okanagan business community, both public and private, to overcome the immediate economic challenges of the pandemic and to proactively support and reenergize the impacted sectors of the economy.

Public health response

The mayor said the city is continuing to follow the orders of the provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry by closing buildings to the public, keeping a safe physical distance, working from home, enhancing remote services and maintaining clean workplaces.

“In general, the city will comply with whatever the province requires, and in fact is already doing much of what was announced,” said Basran.

As far as enforcement of physical distancing, the mayor said bylaw officers are to act as educators to anyone not complying with Dr. Henry’s orders. They can also report situations of continued non-compliance to provincial public health authorities for their enforcement if needed.

The Kelowna RCMP has been handling the majority of these complaints as they have both the jurisdiction and the authority to do so.

“The city is working with the RCMP to assume the first response duties, and is working with Interior Health to ensure clear, consistent and responsive processes are is in place,” said Basran.

Gilchrest said there has been no notable increase or decrease in crime as the pandemic has progressed.

The city is also working with regional neighbours to identify possible public buildings that might be needed for a variety of uses if the pandemic overwhelms existing services, such as food warehouses, care homes, isolation areas and hospitals.

At the request of the provincial government, the city is looking at its own stock of personal protective equipment to identify what it can donate to health workers.

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