Party politics at the municipal level has arrived in Kelowna.
Three candidates planning to run in November’s civic election say they will do so as members of Taxpayers First, described by the candidates—former city councillors Carol Gran and Graeme James and newcomer Dale Olson—as the city’s first civic political party and a non-partisan group of three like-minded people.
It is the first time a group of candidates has announced they are all politically aligned and are seeking election representing a single identifiable group. (In 2011, four candidates, including Gran, were publicly endorsed by a single group—Four Change— which was trying to oust four incumbent councillors. ButFour Change was not a party, just a group of disgruntled businesspeople upset at the council of the day and wanting to endorse candidtes in the hope they would replace the four it wanted off council. The four endorsees, Gran, Gail Given, Colin Basran and Gerry Zimmermann all insisted they were running as individuals and were not aligned in any way with Four Change or each other. Three of them, Given, Basran and Zimmermann were elected.)
In the case of James, Gran and Olson, they say they are running together and say their main goal is to stop what they see as a “rapid upward spiral” of property taxes in the city in recent years..
The trio says while taxes go up each year, the services the city delivers decline year after year.
“People are tired of a tax increase every year,” Olson told the Capital News on Wednesday.
The city typically adopts an annual property tax increase of around two per cent.
But the trio have seized on a financial document from the city’s finance department saying taxes may have to go up by a total of as much as 23 per cent over the next four years to not only maintain services but pay for big ticket items like a new police building. But budget deliberations each year, however, often reduce the preliminary increase the administration recommends to council heading into those talks.
To stop the “upward spiral,” the Taxpayer First trio says if elected they will work to have a four-year property freeze put in place in Kelowna. And, despite the fact they would not have numbers to guarantee such a freeze—a majority on council is five of the nine votes— Gran, James and Olson say if they fail to deliver, they will forfeit their $31,310 per year councillor pay.
Another target of the trio will be what they consider to be “fat” at city hall.
On Wednesday Olson said the trio believes there is “plenty of fat” to be trimmed among the current administration and those cuts could be used to offset the loss of tax revenue by the freeze.
To identify what could be cut, he said an independent group of experts would be hired look at the operations at city hall and identify where cuts could be made.
Olson also accused past councillors of becoming mere pawns of the bureaucracy at city hall once elected.
“Once elected, they go with whatever city hall (administration) wants,” he said.
While sidestepping that description for his two running mates during their respective years on council, Olson said while he could not speak for them, he feels Gran and James were frustrated and were “voices in the dark,” during their council terms.
For his part, James admitted he did feel frustrated when he served for one term on what he described as a “left-leaning” council. James sat on council from 2008 to 2011, a group lead by Mayor Sharon Shepherd and including councillors Charlie Hodge, Michele Rule, Angela Reid and Kevin Craig, the quartet successfully targeted for re-election defeat in 2011 by Four Change. James, who has been working in northern B.C. since March and will return at the end of September, said he failed to win re-election in 2011 because he sat on that council.
However not all members of that council met the same political fate. three were re-elected—long-time incumbents Robert Hobson and Andre Blanleil, and Luke Stack.
James pointed to the city’s new $2.2 million administration building at the Kelowna landfill as example of city spending being out of control, saying it is much more lavish than needed. In its news release, the group also points to the controversial $800,000 spent on new public washrooms and landscaping improvements in City Park as another example out of control spending.
“There’s a lot of money that can be saved,” said James.
The trio says it will propose the four-year tax freeze at the first meeting of the new council in December if they are elected.
The group’s website taxpayersfirst.ca went live Wednesday and includes the party’s platform and information about Gran, James and Olson, a local realtor who has lived in Kelowna for 26-years.