2019 budget decided

UPDATE: 3:45 p.m.

After a day debate, Kelowna city council has landed on a preliminary 2019 budget.

Council approved a budget that will include a tax demand of more than $141 million. That means a tax increase of 4.43  per cent for the average Kelowna taxpayer.

The increase will include a 1.95 per cent infrastructure tax, despite a call from Coun. Brad Sieben to lower it to 1.50 per cent.

The new tax will add $2.6 million to city coffers in 2019 and $5.6 million in 2020 and beyond, as the city looks for ways to raise nearly half a billion dollars to fund infrastructure projects for the next 10 years.

The final budget will be approved in the spring.

UPDATE: 2:55 p.m.

City council has concluded its review of the 2019 budget and, with the addition of one additional RCMP position, has landed at a tax increase of 4.43 per cent.

Before finalizing a preliminary figure, council will now take a second look at a number of items.

If all the items for review are added, the overall increase would land at 4.58 per cent.

UPDATE: 2:25 p.m.

City council will have a full discussion on a planned 1.95 per cent infrastructure tax.

The tax, which would raise about $2.6 million in 2019, and double that in following years, has been designed to help bridge the city's nearly half-a-billion dollar infrastructure deficit over the next 10 years.

While council unanimously supports the additional tax, the debate will centre around whether 1.95 is too high.

Coun. Brad Sieben suggested the new tax be lower, and suggested a later conversation.

Coun. Luke Stack, who agrees with the current level of the tax, says if a number of Priority 2 items are added later in the day, then he would suggest cutting the infrastructure tax to keep the proposed overall increase where it began, 4.4 per cent.

UPDATE: 1:40 p.m.

A clerical error has added a little less than $35,000 to Kelowna's 2019 budget.

An RCMP request for an administrative position was inadvertently included as a Priority 2 item, instead of a Priority 1.

Supt. Brent Mundle said the administrative position had been filled by a provincial RCMP employee out of West Kelowna.

That person was being returned, necessitating a replacement.

Council approved the change.

It also approved the addition of six new officers. Those officers, at a cost of about $1.5 million over the next two years, will be paid for from surpluses accrued through vacancies.

UPDATE: 12:05 p.m.

Council has completed discussions on the 2019 capital budget, and have moved on to the operations side.

There were no surprises during the morning portion of the budget debate - the proposed 4.4 per cent tax increase has not moved either way.

However, several items not currently included in the budget, will be discussed at the end of the day's debate. If brought into the budget, they could add $194,600.

Council has taken a break for lunch.

The prospect of a 1.95 per cent infrastructure levy has not yet hit the table.

UPDATE: 11:20 a.m.

City council will discuss the possible addition of as much as $115,000 to its 2019 storm drainage capital budget.

Coun. Gail Given was concerned two items, which are part of the 10-year Capital Plan, have been placed as Priority 2 projects.

These include the replacement of containment devices and a storm drainage project in the Lower Mission.

Council agreed to put the items aside, and discuss them at the end of budget deliberations.

If approved, it would add about 0.10 per cent to the budget.

UPDATE: 10:15 a.m.

Council has moved some money around to allow the city to apply for senior government grants to make improvements to City Park.

Earlier in December, council had given staff approval to apply for grants up to $6.5 million for improvements to the park's promenade and seawall. However, to do that, the city had to set aside its portion of the $9 million cost in the 2019 budget.

To do so, it reallocated $1.2 million from the Glenmore Recreation Park project.

Should the city be unsuccessful in obtaining the grant, the money would revert back to the Glenmore Park project.

The shifting of money did not have an affect on the current tax burden.

UPDATE: 10 a.m.

Council will take a closer look at a land acquisition request for affordable housing.

During Thursday's budget discussions, Coun. Brad Sieben questioned whether a request for $750,000 from the city's reserve fund was enough for 2019.

According to the budget document, the city does not currently have sufficient funds in its Housing Opportunity Reserve Fund to acquire land for affordable housing opportunities.

Council will discuss the budget request at the end of the day Thursday.

UPDATE: 9:30 a.m.

City council has approved the addition of eight more firefighters. These firefighters will be brought on over the next two years, four in 2019 and four in 2020.

"This was very wisely done," said Coun. Luke Stack.

"We had committed to the eight firefighters, but it's a big hit. This way, we're committing to the eight firefighters, but in two phases, which completes the expansion of the Glenmore fire hall.

The cost to taxpayers is $231,000 in 2019, rising to $758,000 in 2021.

The item as part of the provisional budget.

UPDATE 9:10 a.m.


New city manager Doug Gilchrist calls Kelowna's 2019 budget document both "bold and creative."


Gilchrist, overseeing his first city budget, said it took discipline by all city departments and senior management to get there.

"I often say the most important thing we do as a city is responsibly manage other people's money," said Gilchrist in kicking off the day-long debate.

"I strongly believe fiscal responsibility is the hallmark of any great city. It's critical that we take a close look at the existing services we provide, and question whether or not they are necessary, whether they are of high value, and if they are delivered as efficiently as possible."

Gilchrist says the city will continue to review its base services while looking for ways to save money.

Doug Gilchrist will be in the drivers seat as city council begins a line-by-line debate of Kelowna's 2019 budget.

The 546 page document will be the first Gilchrist has overseen since taking over the city manager's post from Ron Mattiussi in June.

The 2019 budget includes spending across the board of $402 million, and a tax demand of $141.8 million.

That would work out to an overall tax increase of 4.4 per cent over 2018. It includes an increase of 2.45 per cent for general operations and a proposed 1.95 per cent infrastructure tax.

Those numbers could change throughout the day.

Castanet's city hall reporter Wayne Moore will be in council chambers and will update the numbers as the day goes on. Castanet is also providing a live video stream of the budget debate.

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