Waters: New Kelowna council faces first test at balancing city budget

Budget deliberation day for council is January 15.

Kelowna’s new city council will get its first opportunity to make a direct impact on the wallets of its constituents later this month.

In a few weeks, the council—featuring a new mayor and four new councillors—will take a day to deliberate over the city’s 2015 budget, and in doing so will give the first indication of the type of council it plans to be.

In the past, the city has seen councils viewed as either more either business- or socially-minded, winning praise and criticism from supporters and opponents of both.

In his inaugural remarks after being sworn in as mayor last month, Colin Basran made it clear what sort of city he wants to lead.

Repeating his election campaign slogan of making Kelowna “open for opportunity,” he was clear to not fall into on camp or the other, instead saying for him, opportunity was more than just business, it was about social programs too.

So while the new council will be handed a budget prepared under the previous administration, some may feel it may not represent the views and wishes of the current council. But that’s not likely the case.

With five returnees and the at least two, if not more, of the newcomers hailing from a strong business background, the type of budget they will be asked to approve is likely the type of budget they would have asked for in the first place.

But, as the old saying goes, the devil’s in the details.

And it is those details that get ironed out during the one-day budget deliberation each January.

Basran has said he feels a two per cent residential property tax increase would be acceptable to the public, a position held by his predecessor Walter Gray. So,it’s unlikely city taxpayers will be handed a tax hike any bigger despite some big ticket projects on the bear horizon including Kelowna’s new $48 million RCMP detachment building.

While 2014 was not a stellar year for construction in the city, there was an increase over 2013 and that will help as the city hall finance department bolsters this year’s budget with construction revenue from last year.

They will also be helped by an increase in property assessments this year, with the average city house increasing in value by five to 10 per cut according to the B.C. Assessment Authority.

So, while half the new council did not have any input into the preparation of the 2015 budget, it appears the document should be one the council as a whole will have little difficulty approving.

And in that regard, it appears to be business as usual at city hall.

Alistair Waters is the assistant editor of the Kelowna Capital News.





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