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Budget approval means tax increase

You can call it a symbolic budget.

Kelowna City Council was able to do what it wanted - keep the 2014 tax increase below 2.5%.

After nearly six hours of line-by-line budget deliberations Thursday and some creative shifting of priorities, council settled on a provisional tax increase of 2.49%.

It began the day with a proposed increase of 2.67%.    

That means the owner of a $411,000 home will be hit with a municipal tax increase of $42.08 when their tax notice comes in the mail in June.

At a time when employees are lucky to see a 2.5% wage increase, Mayor Walter Gray says he doesn't expect a backlash from constituents upset over Thursday's increase.

"The years I've been the mayor and even when I was a young alderman back in the late 80's, people are more focused on the level of service and the efficiencies they see," says Gray.

"Those days it was, 'I saw five guys leaning on a shovel and they're making more money than I' - we don't hear that anymore. If the public feels they are getting fair value and the decisions are made by people who have been very thoughtful and weigh things carefully they seem to be generally satisfied."

Gray says there is a tipping point where people will lash out but says he hasn't seen that yet in Kelowna.

Council got below the symbolic number with some creative shifting of priorities late in the deliberation process when councillors were able to remove or amend a few items already approved in favour of three items not included in the original budget.

Those three, a transit service extension on Gordon Drive ($121,400), year-round decorative lights for Bernard Avenue ($40,000) and durable road markings ($17,500).

The Bernard Avenue decoration initiative, which gained traction this winter over a decision not to include Christmas lights and decorations on the downtown street, was also amended to include year-round lighting, not just Christmas lighting.

The original figure of $55,000 was downgraded to $40,000 when it was learned the Downtown Kelowna Association indicated it would poll its members and likely make a contribution.

To make room in the budget, council took out a $125,000 expenditure for design work on the McCulloch Road Bridge and removed $20,000 from the $120,000 budgeted for Partnering Opportunities with government and outside agencies.

The total operating budget for 2014 is pegged at $105.4M.

Final numbers could change slightly between now and when the final budget must be approved and submitted to the province in May.

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