EDITORIAL

Penticton City Hall

People who can’t afford to leave Penticton could have their departures hastened by city taxpayers.

A new Family Reunification Fund worth $10,000 is included in the draft 2021 budget that will be the subject of three days of council deliberations next week. The fund was recommended by council’s Safety and Security Advisory Committee, and would be administered in partnership with community agencies.

“Family reunification is prevalent in areas such as children in care, housing, immigration, intimate partner violence, mental illness, substance-use addiction, and youth homelessness,” city spokesman Philip Cooper said in an email Friday.

For example, “the fund may be used for a youth experiencing housing instability to find child care for a few hours so they can take the next steps of reunifying with a member of family. It could be used to complement some of the supports already available in the community around supportive family counselling and courses on parenting,” said Cooper.

“Around intimate partner violence, the fund may help a young mother and child reconnect with other members of family after fleeing their environment to protect their personal safety and well-being.”

The fund is one of the smaller additions to the proposed 2021 budget, which contains a 2.25% tax increase that would cost the owner of an average $464,000 home an extra $25 per year. Combined with planned utility rate hikes, the average homeowner could expect to pay an extra $164 to the city in 2021.

The owner of an average business property worth $1.2 million would pay an extra $420 in tax next year, or $1,463 when combined with utility increases.

A full 2% of the tax increase is attributed to inflation, which would lift general operating expenses to $52.4 million, up $1.9 million from what was budgeted for 2020.

Staff is proposing capital spending of $24.7 million – $8 million of which is carry-over from 2020 – that would include $3.3 million for Penticton Creek restoration work, $1 million for road resurfacing, $1 million for a new fire truck and $538,000 for a new ice plant at McLaren Arena.

Even with that spending, the city’s proposed five-year financial plan still contains $95 million in unfunded capital projects. Staff is recommending borrowing $18 million from 2022-24 to cover some of that. 

Also contained in the budget are five new full-time-equivalent positions that would push the city’s employee count to 301.5, down from 302 in the 2020 budget. The actual count at present is 296.5 FTE, which reflects job cuts earlier this year in response to the pandemic.

City finance manager Jim Bauer said the five new jobs – GIS developer, facilities carpenter, firefighter, engineer in training, and temporary sustainability co-ordinator –would be nearly revenue-neutral thanks to decreased consultant and overtime costs, plus the availability of some grant funding.

Bauer warned that the budget, even once it’s adopted, might need significant revisions in light of the pandemic, as was the case with 2020 plan, which suffered a $5-million hit to revenues.

The biggest loss of approximately $1.7 million was associated with the closure of Cascades Casino Penticton, which has been deferring $25,000-a-month rent payments on its publicly owned building since April and isn’t generating a host local government grant representing the city’s cut of the action.

The city is budgeting for a $500,000 grant in 2021 – a quarter of what was expected in 2020 – plus $290,000 in lease payments the casino has promised to restart once it reopens.

Council’s deliberations are set for Tuesday-Thursday and will be live-streamed. The budget is tentatively scheduled for adoption Dec. 8. 

Public feedback on the proposed budget will be accepted online at www.shapeyourcitypenticton.ca until Sunday and during the budget sessions.