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Zero per cent increase again

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Coun. Helena Konanz

 

By JOHN MOORHOUSE

Penticton Herald

The City of Penticton’s 2013 budget is now a done deal – complete with no property tax increase for the coming year.

However, local residents and businesses will still see a 7.03 per cent jump in electrical rates, coupled with a five per cent hike in water rates. Curbside recycling and garbage collection fees will rise by $2 a month.

City council voted 5-2 Monday night to adopt the city’s 2013 budget, mirroring the results of an initial vote last Thursday when first three readings of the budget bylaws were introduced.

Doug Leahy, the city’s chief financial officer, said a $1,268,000 revenue shortfall will be addressed by utilizing surplus and reserve funds.

Council did find extra funding to improve transit service. Buses on the direct Main Street-Skaha Lake Road route will now run every 20 minutes rather than every half-hour. As well a second HandiDart bus for disabled passengers will be added.

Regular bus fares will remain unchanged, although the rate for HandiDart passengers will increase to $2 from the existing $1.50 fare.

The Penticton Library will remain open on Sundays year-round in 2013. It has previously been closed on Sundays from April through to October.

Councillors John Vassilaki and Helena Konanz were the only council members opposed to the budget.

Konanz wanted to defer the $1.2-million first phase of downtown revitalization (near the new Landmark 7 theatre complex) until 2014. She said this would reduce the need to balance the budget by using surplus and reserve funds.

She pointed to such financial problems as the U.S. fiscal cliff and the European Union difficulties which could impact the global economy.

“We should not be dipping into our savings account right now,” she said. “I don’t think this is a good time to do that.”

However, other council members disagreed, noting downtown revitalization is a capital project which does not utilize general taxation revenues.

The downtown upgrade is also contingent on affected property owners approving their 20 per cent share of the bill, amounting to about $250,000. The planned $300,000 project to convert the former bus barn on Ellis Street into a year-round indoor community market does not require property owner approval.

Vassilaki’s proposal to use $1 million in surplus funds to upgrade water and sewer lines downtown was also rejected.

Coun. Andrew Jakubeit praised the overall budget, pointing to council’s decision to hold off on tax increases for the third year in a row, following a 0.5 per cent decrease in 2011 and zero increase in 2012.

“To have three years without having to have an increase, I think is something this council and (previous) councils have worked very hard towards doing,” he said. “We’re in a healthy enough position to be able to do that.”

Among the higher budget expenditures are a $400,000 rise in RCMP contract costs. The size of the Penticton detachment will remain unchanged at 45 members.

The city’s contract with its CUPE workers includes a one per cent wage increase effective April 1, equal to about $200,000.

The budget also predicts a $50,000 drop in building permit revenues next year, after council approved a reduced fee schedule in an attempt to boost local development.

The $8.5-million capital budget includes funding for downtown revitalization and the Okanagan Beach walkway upgrade.

More than $750,000 in road recapping work has been deferred until 2014. However, an extra $70,000 is budgeted for less extensive road patching jobs.

A further $6.9 million will be spent on capital works for the city’s electrical utility, including $3 million in 2013 and 2014 to increase the capacity of the Westminster Avenue substation to 12-kilovolt service.

Much of the funding will come from the city’s electrical reserve, which is forecast to drop to about $400,000 by 2014 before gradually being replenished.

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