Waters: Kelowna’s ‘zero per cent budget’ likely a one-off

With costs on the rise, it's unlikely Kelowna city council will follow up with a zero per cent budget next time around.

Crafting a budget is never an easy task. But the finance folks at Kelowna city hall seem to have figured it out pretty well over the years.

And once again their peers in the business of figuring out how best to separate you from your hard-earned money in order to run, and improve, the city, have chose to recognize Kelowna staff members for their efforts.

For the 10th year in a row, Kelowna’s finance department has been given an award for its budget by the group that represents municipal finance departments across North America.

It seems the folks from elsewhere like how the folks here not only prepare the budget, but also how they sell it to the people being asked to pay.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again—promoting this particular award has got to be the toughest task anyone at City Hall will face. How do you convince the people you are taxing that you are doing such a good job taking their money that other people think it’s great?

That said, those same local bureaucrats deserve some credit for the job they did this year.

Handed the unenviable task of coming up with a budget that doesn’t raise taxes despite the fact the cost of running the city has increased by an estimated 2.6 per cent, they crafted a financial plan that cuts some things but doesn’t slash and burn.

Big on capital spending—thanks in large part to financial reserves built up over the years for specific future needs—the budget proposes a tax hike of just one-tenth of one per cent.

But as much as the members of the new council may trumpet the achievement, don’t hold your breath the feat will be repeated next year.

Following November’s election several members of the new council expressed concern about a budget with no tax increase but they realized there was no turning back for this year.

The reality is the current council was handed the blueprint for a “zero per cent” budget because that was the marching order city staff was given by the previous council.

Given that Kelowna’s budget planning started last summer and was virtually complete by the time the current mayor and councillors were sworn into office in December, there was no turning back. In the end, all that was left for the new council to do was go over the numbers, quibble about a few minor additions and bask in the glory of the first (nearly) zero budget in 30 years.

But this is now and next year will be then. If the powers that be at  City Hall have their way, there won’t be a repeat performance in 2013.





Kelowna Capital News