Would an audit of Kelowna services find much-needed savings?

City service audit?

The city of Kelowna has approved a 3.64% tax increase this year, while the City of Vernon approved a 6.88% increase and the City of West Kelowna is on track to approve a 4% increase.

Now bear with me, but Kelowna’s tax increase is acceptable given the circumstances. Would it be nice to not have an increase and give everyone a break? Yes. But keeping the budget increase below inflation is a win for the community.

Inflation is at levels not seen in over a decade—to date pegged at 4.7% for 2021.

At the same time, due to a nation-wide RCMP collective bargaining agreement, municipalities are on the hook for millions in retroactive pay to their police officers. Kelowna’s retroactive pay obligation is a substantial $8.3 million.

Kelowna also finds itself in the middle of the pack when it comes to its municipal property tax rate when compared to other municipalities in B.C.

But, since 2014, property taxes have increased a total of 29%, the total number of city employees has grown to more than 1,030 from 716 employees and we have seen the average home price soar to nearly $1 million from $428,000, drastically increasing the property tax collected from each home.

Given these realities, I’m confident if we were to look for savings in our municipal budget, we could find some.

While I was working for the Government of Ontario, we launched a program called the Audit and Accountability Fund.

That program was designed to provide funding to large municipalities in order to conduct independent reviews of municipal budgets and programs to see if there were any savings to be found for taxpayers, through modernization or better use of funding to achieve the same results, without cutting services.

The reviews were most often conducted by large accounting firms, such as KPMG, Ernst & Young or PwC.

The funding each municipality received was not made public, but Ontario’s 39 largest municipalities and three school boards received a portion of the $8.15 million fund (approximately $194,000 per review if divided equally).

For example, the City of Richmond Hill (population of 200,000) found $3.77 million in savings and the City Thunder Bay (population of 110,000) found $8 million in savings.

To say that there was a return on investment would be an understatement.

If these cities, both smaller and larger in terms of population compared to Kelowna, can find savings, why not us?

Given that we’ve seen a staggering total 29% tax increase over the last eight short years, perhaps it’s time we fund an independent financial review of our services to see whether we can find efficiencies within our municipal government’s finances and save everyone a little bit of money.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

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About the Author

Adam Wilson is from Kelowna and has an educational background in urban planning, where he published his research on the politicization of cycling infrastructure in the Journal of Transportation Geography. 

Adam was named as one of Kelowna’s Top 40 Under 40 in 2017 for both his research into cycling infrastructure and a number of political interviews he had done with Macleans, the National Post and CBC News. 

He previously worked as an urban planner in Toronto where he focused on provincial legislation and municipal approval processes.

Most recently, Adam worked for Ontario’s Ministery of Municipal Affairs and Housing, where he held various positions, including as the minister’s executive director of policy and strategic planning, and the Minister’s director of communications. 

Adam now lives in Kelowna with his partner and works in the health care sector, while running his own consultancy that provides strategic advice on local municipal issues.

Email Adam at: [email protected]

His website is adamwilson.ca

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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