Letter: A word from the mayor of West Kelowna

I would first like to thank West Kelowna residents for getting involved and getting informed [on the city hall referendum].

West Kelowna

To the editor:

As you know, West Kelowna residents are heading to the polls this Saturday for our city hall referendum. It’s been an interesting time in our community — a great deal of discussion about our future and our city hall. We on council like to see this kind of engagement from our community and I would first like to thank West Kelowna residents for getting involved and getting informed.

This council and the previous council has put three years of work and taxpayers’ money towards this project. We have refined it to the point where we know it is exactly what is needed and it is now time to get it done. We had an election in 2014, and all members of the current council, except one, openly supported this project. The time is ripe to build our first house with some good pricing and yes we will make a sizeable down payment from our savings and 2015 operational surplus with no additional tax increase. I don’t know many folks that haven’t bought their first house this way — with a down payment and a mortgage, and our down payment will be about half the cost of the house.

The civic centre includes our city hall building, a private office building housing IHA’s Westside Health Centre, two private housing buildings and a public plaza. Some of this land is already owned by the city. This project will stimulate other business and economic activity in the area and promote growth of our tax base in an area that needs to grow.

I had hoped this city hall discussion wouldn’t become divisive or disrespectful. This is not about one area getting special attention. This city hall is for all of West Kelowna in the area that is our commercial tax base. We’ve located it in our historical commercial and administrative area, our West Kelowna downtown. Most city halls are located in the commercial and administrative area of the community.(Kelowna, Penticton, Peachland, Kamloops). This area around the couplet includes MP and MLA offices, provincial government offices, Westbank Okangan Regional Library, GW Board of Trade, the WK RCMP detachment and a museum. This debate is about financially managing a key piece of infrastructure that will become a focal point for years to come for our community’s events, decisions and commerce. It’s about helping to ensure that Westside residents see improved, convenient health services in our civic centre. And it’s about returning the Mt. Boucherie Complex to its original intended use, as a community recreation facility. I would like to point out that the chosen location for city hall is close to the population centre of WK and would be accessible to more residents.

People would say to us, “Why don’t we put the city hall in the old Zellers or the old Sears building?” And we answer, “because they are on Westbank First Nation land and council does not want to spend taxpayer’s money on leasing in another jurisdiction.” Most people know it is better to own a house and pay down a mortgage to build equity, rather than leasing accommodation and having nothing to show for it.

Or “Why not build it on city land we already own? The answer is “because we own very little and nothing of the size and suitable location that is required.” The city does own a portion of the Elliot Road city hall site.

Is it the right time? West Kelowna is now in its ninth year as a young municipality, and during these years we have set aside city hall needs to successfully concentrate on many other priorities for that time — $25 million of sewer upgrades, Gellatly corridor, Boucherie Wine Route, Westlake Road, Hudson Road, traffic calming, and many sidewalk improvements especially near schools for the past nine years, all on time and on budget. We will continue to build these kinds of projects according to the city’s Master Plans for Infrastructure. However, it is nine years since we incorporated and it will be 11 years by the time city hall is built and in service.

We hear fears that vital infrastructure upgrades will be sacrificed to build a new city hall. This is particularly concerning in light of the Lakeview Water Systems Water Quality Advisory currently still in place. This is simply not the case. Council has spent seven years building master plans; we have a solid 10-year capital plan and 10-year financial plan, precisely to ensure we have a handle on what is needed. We have put our projects on the books. We are sacrificing nothing.

We inherited the Lakeview Irrigation System and were told by former trustees it did not need water treatment, thus little funding was turned over to the city and no significant engineering done. Nevertheless the Master Plan for Water Treatment is in place and council is looking at accelerating it by seeking significant infrastructure funding from senior levels of government to reduce the impact on ratepayers.

We hear of concerns about building a project of this magnitude on budget and on time, and are unfairly maligned for the arena project that occurred in the community before the municipality even existed. Our successful management of the construction of the West Kelowna RCMP Detachment building construction seems to have disappeared from the conversation, as have many other successful infrastructure projects completed on time and budget since 2007.

On Sept. 17, please think of the whole picture. Let’s determine together — all of us — what our community’s future will look like. Council believes this is the right project, in the right place and the time will never be better to financially manage it. If offers economic development, improved interior health service, housing and public space.

For more information on the city hall project please visit WestKelownacity.ca.

Please get out and vote on Saturday at one of the four locations between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. For more information on locations and what you need to bring please visit westkelownacity.ca/1066/Be-An-Informed-Voter.

Doug Findlater,

Mayor, City of West Kelowna