Kelowna city council agrees to a 2021 budget which includes a 4.04 per cent increase

Tax increases sits at 4.04%

UPDATE 4:35 p.m.

Kelowna city council made only minor changes to its proposed 2021 budget but, by using reserves, was able to lower the projected tax rate.

The tax rate approved following Thursday's day-long deliberation dropped from 4.27 per cent to 4.04 per cent

After taking a second look at a half dozen budget requests, council agreed to fund both a Champion of the Environment position with a price tag of $197,000 and a building master plan at a cost of $125,000 from reserves instead of using taxation.

The city hall renovation, with a taxation hit of $526,400, will go ahead, while a pair of Priority 2 items, a bike lane snow removal study and additional money for sports court cleaning were not added.

An addition of $100,000 for the Journey Home Society was put on hold pending a presentation by the society early in the new year.

UPDATE 3:15 p.m.

Kelowna city council has concluded the main portion of its budget deliberations.

Throughout the process, nothing has been specifically removed, or added to the budget, leaving the budget impact at 4.27 per cent.

However, that number is expected to change, at least slightly, as council take a second look at a number of items it may add, or take away from the 2021 budget.

Those include $140,000 of items which could be added, and nearly $850,000 of items it discussed removing.

If all the items remaining to be discussed are added, and removed, it would mean a decrease of slightly more than half a percent from the 4.27 per cent increase.

UPDATE 3:05 p.m.

The City of Kelowna is not following the lead of other cities such as Vancouver which has held the line on police spending.

City council has rubber stamped a request for 11 new positions, including eight officers for 2021.

While the city has approved eight new officers, those positions likely won't be filled until late in 2021. In fact, the 11 members added in the 2020 budget are not expected to arrive until next month.

The 19 new RCMP members is far below the 56 recommended by 2025 in last year's Griffiths Report.

Newly minted Supt. Kara Triance agreed the new members allow the city to keep up with growth.

She says the new positions will allow the detachment to remain at one member per 700 residents which she indicated is on the higher end of the scale.

Triance says the officers set to arrive in early 2021 will work with more serious crimes. One officer will also be dedicated specifically to training, filling a gap within the detachment.

UPDATE 2:40 p.m.

City council is look at adding an additional $100,000 to the 2021 budget to assist the Journey Home Society.

The money, if approved, would be on top of the $150,000 earmarked during previous budgets.

The additional funds would help offset challenges over fundraising efforts due to COVID-19.

The organization also does not have charitable status.

Additional funds would help assist lived experience and youth programs, as well as marketing and communication efforts.

UPDATE 2:25 p.m.

Kelowna's 2021 municipal budget will include a $50,000 expenditure to identify and host a signature event next year and beyond.

Coun. Brad Sieben wondered if, given the current climate, whether this initiative should be held off for a year, a sentiment echoed by Coun. Mohini Singh.

Active living and culture director Jim Gabriel says the plan would be to put together an event, with input from other organizations, that could start small, and grow into something bigger in future years.

And, while the current climate around COVID-19 is bleak, those councillors in favour of the expenditure are hopeful things may start to change in the summer.

"Citizens will be desperate for something positive by then," said Coun. Gail Given.

"If there is a time to bring people together, with the blessing of the provincial health officer, this is it."

UPDATE 1:40 p.m.

Council will discuss later today adding $20,000 for sport court cleaning to the 2021 budget.

Council did approve the addition of $10,000 to the current $9,900 allocated.

However, given the increased usage of sport courts through the pandemic, an additional $20,000 listed as priority 2 will be reviewed at the end of the budget day.

UPDATE 12:35 p.m.

City council will discuss later today whether to add $20,000 to the 2021 budget for a study on clearing snow off bike lanes.

Typically, the city has stored snow from roadways onto bike lanes and sidewalks.

The study, which would be complete at the end of 2021, would determine costs of, and how best to remove snow from bike lanes.

Staff indicate more people have been riding later into the year than in previous years, and believe even more would do so if bike lanes were cleared on a regular basis.

UPDATE 12:20 p.m.

Some good news for the City of Kelowna as it goes through its 2021 municipal budget.

It was announced the city has received $7.3 million through the Transit Recovery Program.

A portion of those funds ($2.844 million) will go toward increased transit operating costs.

The money was originally scheduled to come from transit reserves.

The funding was needed to cover both a loss in revenue due to COVID-19 and increases in operations for labour, fuel, maintenance and leasing.

UPDATE 11:50 a.m.

City council continues to look at ways it can pare down the 2021 municipal budget.

Council will take a second look later today at a $125,000 request for development of a building master plan.

At the present time, council has agreed to take a second look at items totalling close to $850,000, which would work out to more than half a percent of the overall budget.

UPDATE 11:30 a.m.

City council will take a further look at a two-year term position designed to take a deeper dive into the environment and climate change in the city.

The position, which would cost the city $195,000 over each of the two years, would lead the city's climate and environmental policies, programs and actions, and provide a comprehensive report and recommendations at the end of the two years.

In supporting the position, Coun. Gail Given suggested that, even more urgent than the pandemic is climate change.

Mayor Colin Basran believes the position is important in his stated desire for the city to do more around climate.

UPDATE 10:10 a.m.

City council is looking at delaying a portion of city hall renovations. The 2021 budget includes $4.685 million for Phase 4 and 5 renovations, with $526,400 coming from taxation.

The item will be discussed at the end of the budget process.

Staff argued the renovations, which have been delayed twice before, could provide overall savings of perhaps 25 to 30 per cent by doing them together as opposed to breaking them our into two phases.

The renovations would also allow the city to eliminate the Lawrence Avenue lease by bringing some staff members back into city hall.

Mayor Basran, voting against further discussion, wondered if council was using city hall renovations as a way to make a stand to lower the budget number.

UPDATE 9:30 a.m.

Not many changes within the Kelowna Fire Department through the 2021 budget.

The fire department will be adding just one new position, a fire inspector to help the department catch up on inspections across the city.

Fire Chief Travis Whiting says the position is important as the fire hall continues to fall behind in the number of inspections it is able to do each year.

He said the department does between 75 and 80 per cent of the building inspections it should be doing each year.

The department will also spend $50,000 to analyze the future location of a new Glenmore fire hall, planned for 2024.

UPDATE 9:15 a.m.

Prior to deliberating the 2021 municipal budget, Kelowna mayor Colin Basran said, while 2020 has been a different and difficult year due to COVID-19, it's important to stand by the city's "proven financial principles and strategies to ensure Kelowna can weather this storm and position itself for recovery."

"We must continue to be agile, resilient and unafraid to do things differently to ensure we keep pace with the growth of our community and continue to provide the essential services expected of us as a person."

He said Kelowna grew faster that anticipated in 2020 as it continues to attract new residents.

Basran reminded residents the city, unlike the provincial and federal governments, is not permitted to run a budget deficit.

City manager Doug Gilchrist acknowledged the city took a significant hit in revenues in 2020 due to the pandemic. Some of those, he said, will continue through much of 2021.

The BC Restart funding provided by the province will help offset some of those losses, but not all, said Gilchrist.

Much of those funds will go towards losses in gaming and airport revenues.

Your tax fate is in their hands.

Kelowna city council will spend a good portion of today going over the entire 2021 city budget.

The line-by-line exercise begins at 9 a.m.

On the table is a proposed tax increase of 4.27 per cent which, if approved as is, would be the second highest increase since the turn of the century.

It would mean taxpayers in an average Kelowna home would pay about $90 a year more in municipal taxes than a year ago.

Castanet will provide real-time updates during the budget debate. We will also stream the deliberations live beginning at 9 a.m.

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