He may not be running for re-election, but that has not stopped Kelowna’s outgoing mayor from wading into the issue of the next council implementing a four-year property tax freeze.
Walter Gray raised the issue at the end of this week’s Kelonwa council meeting by relating a story he read in a Vernon newspaper about rising crime statistics in that city.
And he blamed the rise, in part, on the fact that a few years ago Vernon implemented a multi-year tax property freeze, paid for in part by not increasing police resources. At the end of the freeze, Vernon taxpayers faced a proposed tax increase of more than 20 per cent.
“The article said Vernon paid the price,” said Gray.
His comments were a direct response to the emergence of what is being billed as Kelowna’s first municipal political party and it’s three candidates former councillors Graeme James and Carol Gran and newcomer Dale Olson.
The trio, planning to run together in November’s election under the Taxpayer First banner, are advocating a four-year tax freeze here. And to pay for it, they say cuts can be made to spending at city hall.
According to Olson, there is “plenty of fat” that can be cut at city hall and the trio cite recent big ticket spending by the city projects such as new washrooms and landscaping in City Park ($800,000) and a new administration building at the Glenmore Landfill ($2.2 million). The city has defended both projects.
In his remarks, Gray contrasted Kelowna’s decision to fund as many as 22 more police officers here over three years starting with the 2012 budget, an expense he credits for the drop in crime in his city. The move came after a consultant reported the Kelowna RCMP were woefully under-staffed and as a result, unable to adequately clear files and do crime prevention work.
With Gran and Olson sitting in the gallery at city hall during the council meeting, Gray made it clear where he stands on the issue of a tax freeze.
“It’s very clear, we did the right thing,” he said about the police funding, which was paid for in part by a 1.12 per cent municipal tax increase in 2012, a 2.74 per cent tax increase in 2013 and a 2.49 per cent hike in 2014.
Gray has announced he will not seek re-election in November and has repeatedly said he feels the public is supportive of small annual tax increases for maintaining public services and adding what’s needed as opposed to what’s wanted.
James, Gran and Olson have pledged to introduce the four-year tax freeze if elected. But they will need help from other councillors as five votes are required for any vote to succeed.
They have vowed to forfeit the $31,000 per year salaries they will receive as councillors if they do not bring in the tax freeze.