The property tax increase Kelowna residents are facing this year is going to be a little bigger than originally thought.
On Monday, city council approved a 1.12 per cent increase to its 21012 budget, up from the 0.11 per cent increase approved in the provisional budget in December.
Thanks to the need for more police officers in the city, and council’s willingness to heed the advice of a consultant who said a sizeable number of cops should be hired this year to kick start the RCMP’s ability to focus on crime prevention, Kelowna property owners are now facing an increase one per cent higher than originally planned. The increase will mean about $15 more in the municipal portion of annual property taxes for a house valued at the average of $468,000.
While the final tax increase was up from what council approved in January, Mayor Walter Gray was unapologetic.
“We got 11 more police officers out of this,” he said. “That’s the biggest advance in terms of community protective services in decades. If that’s what it costs, that’s what it costs and we should not apologize for that.”
Council Luke Stack said while he wished the increase could have kept closer to zero, he recognized the needs for more cops.
But he noted that the five-year financial plan, of which the 2012 budget is part, noted that with everything in this year’s budget, an initial increase of 4.5 per cent in property taxes is anticipated next year. That number includes another one percent extra for more cops next year. That anticipated tax hike figure is expected to be lowered as the city prepares the 2013 budget.
In his report to council Monday, city manager Ron Mattiussi said Kelowna’s final budget for 2012 will see the increase in large part because of a plan to hire seven more RCMP officers than the four allowed for in the preliminary budget.
In a report the city commissioned by consultant Robert Prosser, the recommendation was made to hire at least 15 more officers, sooner rather than later, to not only ease the huge caseload that Kelowna RCMP detachment members currently carry but also to allow the force here to concentrate more on preventing crime than simply responding to it.
“Excluding the transfer of taxes to other governments, there are final budget expenditure requests totalling $1,466,409 which are offset by a reduction in recoveries (revenues or reserves) of $182,831,” said Mattiussi in his report.
“Included in these totals is the taxation requirement to address policing resourcing ($969,500), impacts for the provision of retroactive RCMP salary increases ($437,100) and impacts from the (new) Municipal Policing Agreement (between the province and the federal government) of $105,000.”
Mattiussi said the increase to the city budget is anticipated to be the first of similar tax hikes for more cops over the next four years as the city implements Prosser’s recommendations. Mattiussi said annual tax hikes of at least one per cent per year to cover the cost can be expected.
“A strategy to improve protective service resources over the next four years by adding a one per cent tax increase each year will provide the necessary support to an important service delivery area,” wrote Mattiussi. “A difficult decision during the current economic climate, but a decision that will enhance the safety of the citizens of Kelowna.”
The city budget includes $300,000 to fix McKinley Road alongside the McKinley reservoir, the scene of several accidents in recent years, including the death of Shayla Driver, 21 whose car went into the waters after it left the winding road last December.
The road will have a barrier installed and rock will be blasted away to widen the roadway. The work is not expected to take place until September of October, said city officals.
Family members of Driver were in the audience to hear the council approve the plan for McKinley Road and following the unanimous vote, Coun. Mohini Singh left her chair at the council table and walked into the audience to hug Driver’s family members.