Budget 2021

Castanet: December 10, 2020

Coun. Mohini Singh called it a 'no frills budget," while Mayor Colin Basran called it fiscally prudent, one he will have no problem defending to taxpayers.

Following a lengthy review, council settled on a provisional budget which includes a 4.04 per cent tax increase.

That's down slightly from the proposed increase of 4.27 per cent.

But, without assistance from the provincial government, Coun. Luke Stack says city taxpayers would have been looking at a very different scenario.

"What really saved our bacon is the Safe Restart program that came in at $7.88 million," said Stack.

"If we did not have those funds coming in to the city, we would be in a very tough situation.

"Just imagine if we had to reduce our services by $7 million, or raise taxes to cover that additional $7 million, we would be looking at a very frightening scenario, so hats off to our provincial partners."

Council made only two changes to the financial document staff presented. After much deliberation, council agreed to fund a newly created Champion of the Environment staff position and a building master plan from reserves rather than taxation.

Both items were debated a couple of times before city manager Doug Gilchrist suggested reserves could be used for the initiatives staff felt were very important going forward.

In defending the building master plan, deputy city manager Joe Creron said it was one of the most important items in the budget document. He says the city has more than 127 buildings that are getting old and need the city's attention.

After additional deliberation, council also agreed to fully fund the final two phases of city hall renovations, which included $526,000 funded by the taxpayers.

Staff indicated commercial construction prices are low right now and, by doing both projects together, estimate an overall savings of 25 to 30 per cent.

An additional $100,000 for the Journey Home Society will remain a Priority 2 item, however, council may agree to fund it before final budget once they hear further rational from the society in the new year.

Council was sympathetic to the society after learning they will likely not ever quality for charitable status, which closes the door on several other funding and grant opportunities.

The 4.04 per cent increase means the owner of an average $691,000 home will pay an additional $85 in municipal taxes in 2021.

"We utilized our rainy day fund for the 2020 budget," said Basran.

"It would have been nice to utilize reserves for more, but we don't have that ability, so as a result of that, I think we passed a very responsible budget for a community that still continues to grow.

"And, where people still demand exceptional service, and in an organization where the services we provide are essential."

Basran also reminded taxpayers that, unlike senior levels of government, municipalities are not permitted to run a deficit.

The budget did include the additional of eight new RCMP officers as well as three staff positions. The eight officers, who likely won't arrive until later next year, bring to 19 approved by council since the release of the Griffiths Report a year ago.

That report suggested the city hire as many as 56 new officers by 2025 in order to catch up to staffing demands.

The budget could still change slightly between now and final budget in May.

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Remembrance day - 2020

Although we cannot gather together on November 11, 2020 to remember those who serve and served; we can take a moment to vist the field of crosses in Kelowna City Park to have a moment of remembrance. Gail Given, Loyal Wooldridge and I did so today. "Lest we forget."

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Housing remains a priority at the City

Housing tops city needs

Castanet, Wayne Moore Sep 23, 2020

 The City of Kelowna continues to make social issues a top priority. Specifically, finding suitable housing for people with complex needs.  That topic was front and centre during virtual meetings between Mayor Colin Basran and several provincial ministers last week. The face-to-face meetings are traditionally held during the annual Union of BC Municipalities convention which began Tuesday, but were scheduled the week prior this year. Basran says he discussed that issue in a joint meeting with both the Minister of Housing and the minister of Mental Health and Addictions. "There were two things, one to continue funding for supportive housing projects, but the bigger topic was how we are going house people with complex needs, who are not well enough to move into supportive housing projects," said Basran. "On the social issues front, that is our top priority." Basran says these are people with mental health and addiction issues, brain injuries or fetal alcohol syndrome who have been forced onto city streets. "Often times there's little to no chance of rehabilitation, but they still deserve a place to live, and supports. "Those are the people who get the most attention on our streets, and who residents see as not being helped, and wonder why nothing is being done. It's because their needs are so complex they can't just go into a supportive housing project." He said he had hoped to have Health Minister Adrian Dix on the call because they mayor believes those individuals will require supports from the health ministry as well.

 "That was also a topic of conversation with the premier, because we need the health ministry onboard when it comes to helping those with complex needs." Basran says the topic of winter and cold weather shelters was not discussed, because those talks are already underway at the staff level. He says they are discussing site identification and service providers and, while there is no news to report, Basran says they are further along in the process than they were at this time last year.

 

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New Team to Focus on Troublesome Properties

New team focuses on troublesome properties

A new collaboration between police and government agencies is cracking down on properties where unsafe living conditions or suspected criminal activity have attracted neighbours’ attention.

The Property Standards Compliance Team (PSCT) is a new initiative started in June that brings together RCMP, City of Kelowna staff, Kelowna Fire Department and other agencies as needed to attend potentially unsafe or illegal properties.

The goal of the team is to act on repeated complaints from neighbours about properties. It combines enforcement of criminal activities with RCMP when necessary, in partnership with City Bylaw and building inspection staff.

“We receive calls from concerned neighbours throughout the year, as do the RCMP, about properties that are causing repeated disturbances to the neighbourhood,” said David Gazley, Bylaw Services Manager. ”This approach puts the onus on the property owner to address the concerns, rather than focusing on the tenants who might be the source of complaints. The fines and orders from the team motivate the property owner to take action.”

In a recent case, Bylaw Services issued tickets totaling more than $2,500 to a property owner. More specifically, the Bylaw officer attended with the RCMP and City Building Inspectors and issued the following six tickets to the property owner:

  • more than five occupants not related
  • illegally occupied bedroom in the furnace room
  • illegal occupied utility trailer
  • illegally occupied shed
  • illegal room in the carriage home attic
  • Building without a permit in the attic

RCMP attend to investigate possible criminal activity, while other government agencies might also attend to assess public health and safety issues.

“We have always collaborated with RCMP and others on property complaints, but this team takes a more coordinated and proactive approach to establish priorities and to bring the right people into the residence to assess illegal and unsafe conditions,” said Gazley.

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City Hall's An open book

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Money Destined for Housing Retained

Money destined for housing will not be shared with Tourism Kelowna

Housing wins over tourism

Kelowna city council voted down a recommendation to have online portal accommodation revenue split between affordable housing and tourism marketing next year.

The recommendation was made as Tourism Kelowna struggles with funding to market the city to tourists from across the province.

Since allowing OAP's such as AirBNB in late 2018, the city has collected a three per cent fee from each short-term rental similar to the hotel tax collected on each room rental.

While the hotel tax revenue goes directly to Tourism Kelowna for marketing, the province has given municipalities the ability to use OAP monies for either tourism marketing or affordable housing.

City council has chosen to use that money for affordable housing.

Because room tax revenue has fallen off sharply due to COVID-19, with no guarantee of the full return in 2021, it was suggested the OAP be shared 50-50 between affordable housing and tourist marketing.

Council voted it down 5-3 with only Mayor Colin Basran and councillors Brad Sieben and Gail Given supporting it.

Basran said the main crux of the matter in allowing short-term rentals nearly two years ago was to regulate an industry that was causing havoc in the city.

He said getting OAP revenue on top of that was a bonus.

"But, I'm comfortable in the fact we have many ways of funding property acquisition if we need to, particularly in the short term," he said.

"If BC Housing comes knocking tomorrow, and says we have an opportunity, I have every confidence we would be able to find a way to purchase that property to move a project forward. This is not going to inhibit, for one year, our ability to move forward with affordable housing projects."

Basran says it comes down to the health aspect by opening the city up to tourists from around the province.

He added the city continues to follow the advice of Dr. Bonnie Henry who says people should feel free to move about around the province, and Basran says Tourism Kelowna should continue to market the city that way.

Coun. Luke Stack agreed comments about following the lead of the provincial health officer, but couldn't support the motion on principle.

"I actually believe once we give up this fund going into the affordable housing pool, year-after-year there will be an excellent year why not to put it in the pool because there will be other needs," said Stack.

"Using tourism advertising, I think changes the direction. In my opinion, once the direction is changed, we will never get it back. That's why I think we should stay the course as long as we can, because I think this will help build a foundation we need for the longer term."

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Drive Through Approved

From Castanet.net

Coun. Ryan Donn was on an island all by himself as council Tuesday approved a gas bar and restaurant drive-thru at Sexsmith and Highway 97 Tuesday night.

The property, on lands zoned for industrial use, required a council-approved rezoning because drive-thrus are not a permitted use in those zones.

Donn was the lone councillor to vote against the rezoning, siding with a recommendation put forward by planning staff, who cited council's goal of reducing vehicle emissions as a basis for that recommendation.

"I think based on our said goal of trying to reduce car usage...is to actually make using the car not the number one easiest choice possible. And that is what a drive-thru is," said Donn.

"I know there's a business case to be made that there are already two drive-thrus on different corners, and it's a major intersection. But, at some point we are going to have to say no if we genuinely want to move the dial lower to reduce people using cars.

"What is that point?"

The rest of council was not at that point with this particular application.

"Drive-thrus have their place, and this is a good place for it," cited Coun. Charlie Hodge.

Coun. Luke Stack pointed to the location as one of the gateways to the city, saying the companies overall landscape plan would actually enhance the area.

But, on emissions, he says the focus shouldn't be on banning or reducing drive-thrus.

"I do believe in greenhouse gas emission reduction, and on a personal level and a civic level working toward that goal," he said.

"But, I do believe the real solution is to have people change their automobiles to less emissions, and not to outlaw drive-thrus in my opinion. I go through one every day literally, but I drive an electric vehicle, so I don't have any emissions."

Mayor Colin Basran, an outspoken proponent of emission reduction, reluctantly endorsed the application.

"Do I think we are going to save the planet with this particular application? No. Is is another cut? potentially," said Basran.

"But, I think where we in Kelowna have the greatest opportunity to change behaviour is in our town centres, where people can live and work and shop and recreate in a way that's feasible for them to get around by alternate means.

"Unfortunately, because of this location, it's in an area that's outside those town centres where people are already in their vehicle."

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Social Distancing - A Guide

This is a good guide to follow in these unusual times. 

Social Distancing

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City needs to be "creative" to establish new city center parks

No new taxes for parks

If Kelowna is to adhere to the principles of the Imagine Kelowna vision when it comes to parkland, it will have to get creative.

That was the general consensus around the city council table Monday afternoon.

A hectare of land in the city's downtown core is nine times the cost of the same suburban land according to parks and building planning manager Robert Parlane.

It was a number most were unwilling to entertain.

After hitting the development community with a controversial parks acquisition development cost charge and taxpayers with an additional infrastructure tax levy, Coun. Luke Stack said residents and developers would not have stomach to cough up any more.

"I was a little bit disheartened I must admit when I read this saying, now that you've made these big, bold moves, by the way, it's nowhere near what you need if you want to build the vision," said Stack.

"I think the idea of saying we need to buy another acre of downtown to turn it into a park, for me, that boat has kind of sailed. 

"Truthfully I want to have an Imagine Kelowna Impact and vision, but I know we can't do it with dollars alone. We have to do it with creativity, looking at things in fresh ways. making the most out of each new development."

Coun. Brad Sieben suggested the city may want to look at a model similar to one in suburban areas like Kettle Valley where parks are built out as part of the development plan.

Coun. Gail Given says the current downtown parks will become overused as the city continues to densify the downtown core.

She believes the city needs to continue to look at opportunities to acquire land, but more for linear parks that connect the big citywide parks.

"At .27 per cent of what we had hoped for kind of hurts, but doing it wisely will be important," she said.

Given suggested the city get creative in how it programs parkland.

"I can look downtown and see parks that are a hunk of grass. It's a lot we bought that right now has grass and a rose garden. It has an opportunity to become more programmed, more activated, greater use on it."

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Additional Foot Patrol for Downtown Kelowna

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