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Kelowna  

Budget devoid of drama

Kelowna city council made very few changes to its 2018 provisional budget during deliberations Thursday.

What started as a 3.59 per cent increase for Kelowna taxpayers came out just one-one hundredth of a percentage point higher at 3.6 per cent. The slight uptick will still mean the homeowner with the average $639,000 home will be hit with an additional $70 in municipal taxes next year.

The budget that was approved Thursday, which could still change before it must be finalized in May, contained no real surprises.

Council rubber-stamped the main items presented to them by city manager Ron Mattiussi.

For the fire department, that means 12 new firefighters, $200,000 in renovations to the Glenmore fire hall and a new truck. The RCMP will receive four new members, four data processors and a civilian secretary.

Many around the council table characterized the final document as a safety budget, a term Mayor Colin Basran said he could live with.

"Certainly a lot of the expenditures were in relation to public safety, firefighters, RCMP, traffic calming," said Basran.

"If you had to put a label on a budget, could this be a public safety budget, sure it could."

In some respects, it was also a safe budget, a boring budget, one which lacks some of the drama of previous years.

"The things we are spending on are things we have been told by the public are priorities, and that we believe there is value for money in the things that are being added," said Basran.

"If that's boring, I suppose, but at the end of the day, we're just trying to address the needs of our residents while also making sure they are getting value for money."

Council did have a close look at a few inexpensive items, deemed to be Priority 2 items, that were not initially approved.

Three of those, a traffic circle at Mugford and Laurel roads in Rutland to finish a project from 2015, a full-time CCTV monitoring program and a full-time technical position at the Kelowna Community Theatre, were added to the budget.

However, Coun. Luke Stack said he would only approve the additions if council could find something to remove.

In response, council shifted some money around. At the request of Coun. Gail Given, staff looked at a building renewal for the Rotary Centre for the Arts. Instead of using tax dollars, the city was able to take funds from the buildings reserve account to pay for the additions and a portion of a renovation to Kasugai Gardens.

That $100,000 in savings was able to offset most of the $115,000 needed for the three additional items.

Council also asked to review a further improvements to Rutland Centennial Park.

Phases three and four of the park improvement project were included in last year's budget, however a Canada 150 grant for the $350,000 project fell through. The item was not included in this year's budget.

Council, led by Brad Sieben, asked that the project be reviewed early in 2018.

"There is an expectation from the community that this be finished," said Sieben, who hopes the project, which includes expanding the playground and adding other infrastructure features such as walking paths and benches, can be included once the budget is finalized in May.

"We struck a balance today, because we are not trying to keep the budget so low that we can't add anything," said Coun. Luke Stack.

"To be honest with you, I think people would be annoyed if we weren't adding on some of the multi-model corridors and some of the parks we are adding. People have an expectation we'll be doing that."

While a 3.6 per cent increase may seem like a lot, Basran reminded people that of the 16 cities in B.C. with a population greater than 75,000, Kelowna has the fifth lowest tax rate, and is well below the provincial average.

He also pointed out that this council, which will be up for re-election before the next budget comes in, had produced an average tax increase of 3.45 per cent. That compares with a 3.70 per cent average increase for the past 15 years.



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