Residents in West Kelowna will be paying slightly less tax in 2020 than initially thought.
On April 7, council voted to reduce the proposed tax increase from 4.8 per cent to 2.8 per cent. The move comes at a time when several businesses and residents of the area are facing financial struggles due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The lower rate was included in an amendment to the city’s 2020-2024 financial plan.
“Cutting the tax increase is the right thing to do and we must continue to look for ways to support our residents and businesses who need the help during this difficult time,” said Mayor Gord Milsom. “This is not an easy decision as it may impact some of the services we provide or lead to setbacks on some of our projects. However, we need to help our community where we can during COVID-19. We are also requesting that the Province of BC expand their Property Tax Deferment Program and extend the tax penalty due date.”
City staff will look at ways to achieve the lower property tax rate, which is anticipated to include some staffing and service-level reductions.
In another endeavour to reduce financial burdens on its residents, the city eliminated the one per cent interest charged on outstanding utility bill balances through to the end of 2020.
“We hope these measures provide relief and flexibility for those that are under financial hardship and need the assistance,” said Paul Gipps, chief administrative officer. “Council’s direction is to help ease the financial burden of COVID-19, and staff will bring back solutions to meet that objective. Our Financial Services staff have done exceptional work to keep our financial continuity intact, and we will continue to evaluate further options that do not put the city at financial risk.”
While the city is doing what it can, chief financial officer Warren Everton said residents also need to do their part.
“This is an unprecedented time for us and we are balancing the need to alleviate the fee and tax burden in our community while preserving the city’s treasury function,” said Everton. “We are encouraging those in our community who are able to pay their fees and taxes on-time to kindly proceed as best as they can. This will help keep our receivables in a more steady-state as we strive to meet our capital and operating budget needs.”
As with other municipal governments across B.C., the city adopted a Revenue Anticipation Borrowing Bylaw that provides the ability for the city to temporarily borrow up to $6 million to cover capital and operating costs in the event of tax revenue delays resulting from COVID-19.
“These combined financial measures provide a good balance of increased flexibility and temporary financial relief measures for our community while we continue to keep our operations running as normal as possible during COVID-19,” said Milsom.