Update: 5:55 p.m—West Kelowna council has wrapped up its budget deliberations and at the last moment used $125,000 in surplus funds to reduce this year’s tax impact to 2.58 per cent from the three per cent hike called for in the proposed 2018 budget.
In previous years, the city has used surplus funds to bolster its reserves.
But this year, with large water rate increases expected for taxpayers to pay for the building of a new water treatment plant in Rose Valley for the Lakeview water system, and improvements to the existing Powers Creek water treatment plant, Coun. Carol Zanon moved that the surplus funds be used to “give taxpayers a break.”
The move was not unanimous however, with Councillors Rusty Ensign, Bryden Winsby and Rosalind Neis opposing the move.
Original story: It appears West Kelowna will not be getting any more police officers or firefighters this year.
On Tuesday, prior to its 2018 budget deliberations, city council agreed with staff recommendations to reject bids by both the RCMP and the fire department to bolster their ranks in this year’s budget.
While the RCMP was looking for eight new officers, the fire department, after having its request for eight more firefighters rejected by council last year, asked for two more this year and the phasing in of the additional six over the next four years.
But city chief administrative officer Jim Zaffino recommended against both requests, citing the cost and, in the case of the RCMP request, the need for a review by the province of its contribution to policing in West Kelowna.
“Council requested that the province conduct the review to determine if the service level provided (of provincial officers who can police West Kelowna) is fair,” said Zaffino in a report to council.
He told council that after the municipality incorporated in 2007, a deal was made with the province to have 21 municipally-funded RCMP officers and another 20 provincially-funded officers.
But, he said, while the city has added five more municipal officers since then, the province has not added any despite exponential growth in the city.
“We’re very frustrated by this (lack of a review),” said Mayor Doug Findlater, noting the city has been trying for years to get the province to carry one out.
Coun. Duane Ophus noted council’s refusal to add more officers should not be viewed as council not supporting policing in the city. He said this year, West Kelowna will increase police spending overall by six per cent. Policing in the city in 2018 will cost just over $5 million.
Zaffino said hiring the new officers would have cost the city $1.3 million and resulted in an additional 4.3 per cent tax increase.
While budget deliberations were not finalized as of press deadline Tuesday, heading into the meeting, the proposed budget carried a three per cent tax increase. Zaffino said council could lower that to 2.5 per cent if it chose to use $660,000 in discretionary funds. As of the Capital News press deadline, that decision had not been made.
Insp. Anna Marie Mallard, the officer in charge of the West Kelowna detachment said in light of council’s refusal to add more RCMP officers this year, it will be business as usual for the detachment.
But she said it would mean policing in West Kelowna will be more reactionary than proactive.
In the case of the fire department’s request for more manpower, Zaffino said approval would have committed future councils to funding at the expense of other city projects.
He said with tax increases of between 0.49 per cent and 1.86 per cent over the next four years, the cost was just too high.
The city has requested a business plan from the fire department outlining what it will require going forward in terms of equipment, buildings and firefighters.
The proposed $89 million city budget includes $21.8 million in capital expenditures.
Following the budget deliberations, the city will hold a public open house Jan. 31 at the Okanagan Regional Library branch in Westbank to gather public input.
(For updates on the 2018 West Kelowna budget, see kelownacapnews.com)