As it prepares for its annual budget deliberations Jan. 17, West Kelowna council is looking at a proposed three per cent tax increase in 2017.
While the final hike may be tweaked based on council’s decisions next month and then not finalized until spring, chief financial officer Lisa Pleadwell says West Kelowna, like many cities, faces some key challenges in the coming years, including making new investments to sustain the city into the future and to advance council’s strategic direction.
She says the proposed budget allows for maintenance of current service levels as well as financial investment in programs, services and infrastructure to address growth and enhance the city going forward.
The proposed budget calls for the city to collect $29.4 million in tax next year, up $1.3 million from this year. Any money not used for program, service or infrastructure improvements should go into reserves, says the finance department.
One of council’s biggest challenges will be a request from the fire department — not supported in the 2017 provisional budget — to add eight more fire fighters next year.
That is on top of the four new city hall positions already recommended in the proposed budget and the addition of two more RCMP officers, also in the proposed 2017 budget.
The cost of the city workers will be offset by the fact they will not be hired until after the first quarter next year, saving the city approximately $150,000. The cost of adding the police officers will be offset by approximately $300,000 in savings in the existing RCMP contract. But the same can’t be said for the firefighters.
The addition of the eight would allow the fire hall in Lakeview Heights to respond with four fighters to a call instead of the current three. But it would come at a cost.
According to chief administration officer Jim Zaffino, to finance eight new firefighters in 2018 and 2019, the overall tax increase will need to be at least five per cent in both years, two per cent higher than currently predicted. To avoid that increase, a two per cent reduction in service to other areas would have to be made, he added. Zaffino expects the request for the eight new firefighters will be made again by the fire department in 2018 if council does not put them in the 2017 budget.
Adding the extra firefighters would cut down on what Zaffino called the “extreme” amounts of overtime currently being worked by firefighters at the Olalla Road fire hall.