West Kelowna Coun. Rick de Jong summed up 2016 in three words — challenging, frustrating and surprising.
According to de Jong, who was filling in for vacationing Mayor Doug Findlater at the end of the year, the biggest challenge for the city was the drawn-out water quality advisory for Lakeview water utility customers after high turbidity levels and algae were found in the water coming out of the Rose Valley reservoir.
The advisory covered thousands of residents in areas such as Rose Valley, Lakeview Heights, West Kelowna Estates and Shannon Lake.
The advisory lasted for the better part of three months, from the later part of the summer into the early fall and even prompted the city to open its bulk water station in Shannon Lake to provide the public with free treated water.
“That was difficult,” said de Jong about the effect of the water advisory, noting the city has now applied for a federal-provincial grant that, if successful, could provide as much as 83 per cent of the estimated $54 million cost of a water treatment plant for the Lakeview system. The plant would be similar to the one that treats water in the Glenrosa water system at the other end of the city. The water issue was not the only headache for West Kelowna in 2016.
It’s bid to build a new city hall/civic centre was rejected, not once but twice, by residents this year. First, more than the required 10 per cent of voters signed up to oppose the $14-million plan in an alternate approval process and then, in a paper-thin referendum decision in September, the proposal was rejected by a mere 27 votes.
“That was both frustrating and surprising,” he said of the AAP and referendum results.
And it leaves the city with the problem it had going into the plan — how to house the growing staff needed to the run a growing city.
Like other municipalities in the area, the demand for services and amenities in West Kelowna is growing and de Jong said the council will be mindful of that as it heads into its 2017 budget deliberations in early January.
With a three per cent tax hike proposed for 2017, the city plans to add four more staff and two more police officers but is likely to hold off on a request for eight more firefighters until next year.
Still, de Jong said the young city did do more road rehabilitation work and build more sidewalks in 2016 as it tried to catch up in dealing with a road system de Jong said was not in great condition when West Kelowna incorporated in 2007.