After three days of discussion, Penticton city council finalized a budget with a tax increase of 4.36 per cent.
Coun. Max Picton said he was surprised to see the percentage drop from the five per cent increase forecasted at the beginning of discussions on Tuesday. He expected they would have to vote for a higher increase.
“I thought going into this process that was going to be very conservative,” said Picton. “I am extremely happy with this number and I think most of Penticton should be as well.”
For the average homeowner, that is expected to translate to about an $86 a year increase. It only passed by a 4-3 margin with Couns. Andre Martin, Helena Konanz and Mayor Andrew Jakubeit opposed, advocating for a target of four per cent, with staff asked to find more cuts.
Coun. Konanz said they should borrow from the city’s reserve funds if necessary. “Every year that I have been on council, staff have asked for more than they can possibly use. It’s been millions of dollars every year in surplus. I don’t see why it would hurt to go down to four per cent and use some of our surplus to do that,” said Konanz.
Konanz was referring to the city’s accumulated surplus, which staff said was not a significant surplus, based on the size of the city’s budget.
Jakubeit commented that using surplus is not really sustainable, and considering the infrastructure deficit, any surplus should be added to that reserve.
Getting to this point is going to cost the community in some ways, including cutting the RCMP budget.
Bauer said the original budget included cutting the RCMP budget by $100,000 in anticipation that cuts could be found. Given that the detachment has not historically utilized the 45 police officers, he said they hoped to find more cuts
“We are proposing that we could take another $45,000 out of that. Which would essentially translate into the vacancy of one RCMP officer,” said Bauer. “We are not proposing a reduction to the authorized strength, it is just that we know there is turnover, there is always vacancies that come up and we think that is something that is quite realistic and achievable with no reduction in police services. “
More savings comes from reducing the amount allocated to the arts reserve fund. This money is used to support art projects around town, and this year is earmarked to help with a sculpture program and a public art initiative at the corner of Main and Front Streets.
“We’ve gone back and looked at what is in that reserve and what is required to fund the sculpture program in 2017, as well as fund the Valley First art initiative,” said budget analyst Deb Clipperton. “We have in our budget $50,000 to transfer to the art reserve this year and we have decreased it by $18,000,”.
Internally, council asked for cuts to the budget for staff training and economic development by $50,000 each.
Coun. Judy Sentes was concerned about cutting staff training, saying that it was always of value.
“I think that needs to be a priority. If our staff our up to the optimum with their training, that is going to reflect well for us,” said Sentes. “The reward to the corporation is huge.” Council is also betting on better than average returns in the revenue the city receives for hosting the Cascade Casino. Staff already increased their estimate of the casino revenue to $90,000, but the mayor wanted a little more added to the line.
Jakubeit speculated that when the new casino building opens this spring, it will draw greater interest, translating into increased revenue, and an increased share for the city.
“I would say you are right, there is going to be a surge of activity,” said CAO Peter Weeber, agreeing with the mayor. Council voted to increasing the revenue line to $100,000.
Adding up the pluses and minuses came out to a reduction of $181,762, shaving .64 per cent of the proposed increase.