City councillors slugged it out Wednesday as they pored over $1-million worth of grant requests from community organizations.
And by the time the second day of 2020 budget deliberations was over, the actual amount of grants approved had been whittled down to $507,000, leaving $36,000 left over for any mid-year requests.
The largest grant that was denied was a $200,000 request from Pathways Addiction and Resource Centre, which council heard was beyond the scope of the program because part of the money would have gone towards purchasing a property for a new detox program.
Council also shaved down a $100,000 request from the Okanagan School of the Arts, which runs the Shatford Centre, to just $20,000.
Mayor John Vassilaki expressed concern about the OSA’s lease expiring in 2020 and lack of a business plan “to make sure whatever the city puts forwards is utilized properly… and will actually improve the building.”
But perhaps the most contentious grant application was a $7,294 request from Rotary Ribfest.
Coun. Katie Robinson came out swinging against the grant, noting Ribfest turns a profit that Rotary then plunges back into the community.
“As city councillors, we’re not in the business of giving them money so they can donate it to the community,” said Robinson, who later relented and voted to go along with the request, some of which will cover the cost of moving the event to Skaha Lake Park for 2020 because its regular spot at Okanagan Lake Park was double-booked.
Robinson was also one of two councillors on the losing side of a vote against $110,000 for detailed design work for revitalization of the 400 block of Main Street.
The other opponent, Coun. Frank Regehr, suggested the project should wait until a two-year, $600,000 review of the city’s infrastructure needs is complete.
“If the 400 block is at the top of the pile of projects to be done, then it will be done,” he said.
Others defended the project as a logical continuation of the revitalization work already done on the 100 through 300 blocks of Main Street.
“I think if we want to have a vibrant city then we need to have a vibrant downtown, and this (revitalization) is part of making a vibrant downtown,” said Coun. Julius Bloomfield.
The estimated $1.4 million cost of actually doing the revitalization work has been penciled in to the 2021 budget.
Meanwhile, council also learned the city’s total debt now stands at about $31 million, down sharply from $80 million in 2010. The cost of servicing that debt in 2020 is pegged at $3.9 million, with $2.3 million going to the principles and the balance to interest.
Conversely, the city’s reserves have increased from $79.3 million at the start of 2019 to an estimated $81.8 million at the end of the year.
After two full days of deliberations, the proposed 2019 tax hike still stands at 2.9%, because the total amount of grants approved by council, plus the leftover for mid-year requests, matched what staff put in the provisional budget.
The 2.9% increase would cost the owner of an average $500,000 home an extra $72.96 per year, and the owner of an average business property worth $1.18 million an extra $870.36 per year.
Any significant budget changes are expected to come this morning on what is the final day of deliberations.