Letter: West Kelowna council continues to ignore taxpayers’ preferences

It appears the Governance Report, Citizens’ Survey results, along with the AAP were not conclusive enough for council.

To the editor:

Once again West Kelowna council is gambling with taxpayer’s money with renewed hopes that relocating city hall will bring about revitalization for Westbank centre.

Meanwhile, DCC reductions for this area to date are not generating the commercial growth council anticipated. These efforts by council are in spite of little taxpayer support provided in the results of the Citizens’ Survey regarding Westbank centre revitalization. Survey results suggest other priorities prevail with taxpayers.

As an example of council’s misplaced priorities, the Smith Creek Residents’ Association has lobbied council over the years to spend tax dollars to complete development (however rustic) to allow the removal of the fencing from Wild Horse Park. This municipal parkland, adjacent to a future school on Wild Horse Drive, remains completely inaccessible to the public because of this fencing. Taxpayers might understandably complain about how slow development might be in any park, it remains unthinkable council accepts the notion it is OK for parkland to remain off limits to the public for years on end.

In an attempt to win over taxpayer support for city hall, council markets this development with a commitment from Interior Health Authority to relocate their services—no revenue other than property taxes. And, as we recall, IHA purchased Agricultural Land Reserve land (at Elliott and Butt) for a future medical centre and fenced the entire property at taxpayer’s expense.

The developer on the other hand sees the real gain: $655,000 land purchase from the city along with a commitment to relocate IHA services—all value-added to the developer’s investment.

The outcome of the alternative approval process (and now a referendum) leans heavily in favour of council. Council made the AAP process difficult by forcing personal delivery for returned petitions when it could have allowed electronic return (fax, email). According to the rules, the petition could also have allowed multiple electors to sign it. Council can use vast amounts of taxpayer-funded resources to promote their side. The ‘opposing side’ is on their own to obtain whatever resources they need (meeting space, advertising, etc.). All work is accomplished by volunteer time (no pay, unlike city employees) and funded at their own expense.

The AAP failed [to allow council to borrow $10.5 million for the city hall/civic centre project] and now council has committed to about $40,000 for a referendum. It appears the Governance Report, Citizens’ Survey results, along with the AAP were not conclusive enough for council.

Would common sense not suggest, in the lead up to an AAP, that there were more economical ways to gain a stronger appreciation for the public’s appetite for a new city hall and its location?  Council asked city staff to look at this for a number of years while foregoing any real test of public support. The 2016 Citizens’ survey (just released) could have been a tool to garner public input.

No matter your view on the city hall proposal, we must thank the 12 volunteers that committed time, knowledge, energy and money to reduce the obstacles for those wanting to sign the AAP. Some of the negative comments (e.g. “12 retirees/seniors with nothing better to do than complain”) made by social media commentators were about them. Hopefully, these individuals and their readers will recognize these actions for what they really are—a form of bullying. This includes those making negative comments when given the opportunity to sign a petition (already made cumbersome by council) at the locations volunteers staffed.

What is our future without volunteers?

T. Kinsman, West Kelowna