Waters: Kelowna council to squeeze budget numbers until they squeal ‘uncle’

Council set to go over proposed 2013 municipal budget with a fine-toothed comb Thursday.

‘Twas two weeks before Christmas and all through the city,

Council was pondering how to increase the kitty.

Kelowna city council will hunker down with municipal staff Thursday to figure out just how big a lump of coal—also known as the annual property tax increase— will be given to local property owners.

Coming just days before Christmas, it always seems a little cold that something as financially painful as a tax increase should be settled at this time of giving. But, as was once said, time stops for no man and like it or not, municipalities do not have the luxury of taking time off for the holidays.

With the mid-May deadline for finalizing municipal budgets in B.C. looming, something as complicated as figuring out how much it will cost to run the city, where the money will come from and what will be included has to be dealt with sooner rather than later.

But before we bestow the mantle of Scrooge or Grinch on the men and women of council for the proposed 2.54 per cent tax hike they say is coming, remember last year Kelowna taxpayers got off fairly light with a 1.1 per cent hike. In fact, the average for the last few years has been 1.7 per cent, lower than most similarly-sized cities in B.C.

The city can take its lumps for many decisions depending on which side of the fence you sit, but to give it it’s due, it’s always been fairly well managed when it comes to its finances.

Unlike some municipalities that use the politically expedient tactic of no tax increase in a given year— a move that inevitably bites it in the wallet later—Kelowna has embarked on more of a slow but steady approach.

With the exception of the bump needed to pay for the H2O aquatic centre a few years ago, tax hikes here have generally been around two per cent and sometimes lower. And for that the lights stay on, the roads get cleared of snow, there are indoor and outdoor places to play, garbage gets dealt with and, most important of all, the toilets continue to flush.

For the average homeowner, the property taxes they pay here are a pretty good deal.

But lets face it. None of us like paying tax—any tax. We feel our hard-earned dollars are being taken away. But it’s not a one way street. We are paying for services. And, in many cases, we  are getting what we say we want. But we have to pay for it.

And taxes only foot the bill for about a quarter of what it costs to run the city.

Given City Hall’s penchant for squeezing everything it can out of a buck and council’s oft-stated desire to keep tax increases to a minimum, it’ll be no surprise should council come out of Thursday’s budget deliberations with a lower increase than the 2.54 per cent it started with.

But make no mistake, there will be an increase this year. That’s because in life, and at City Hall, to use an age-old expression, nothing’s for nothing.

Alistair Waters is the assistant editor of the Capital News.

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