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Kelowna property taxes to rise 2.5%

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Passengers wait for a bus at the Queensway bus loop on Thursday. Redevelopment of the bus terminal in downtown Kelowna will occur next year at a total projected cost of $5.4 million. The provincial and federal governments are covering $4.7 million of the budget.
Six hours of discussion added up to $3 worth of savings Thursday at Kelowna City Hall.
Council trimmed the 2014 municipal tax hike from 2.7 per cent to 2.5 per cent in a budget-setting session that saw few significant changes made to the provisional spending plan prepared by staff.
The owner of a home with an assessed value of $451,000 will now see his or her municipal taxes rise $42, rather than the $45 that had been projected in the provisional budget.
After council unanimously approved the budget, Mayor Walter Gray said he believed most residents would accept the 2.5 per cent municipal tax increase.
"Nobody wants any increase," Gray said. "(But) if the public feels they're getting fair value and the (budget) decisions are made by people who have been very thoughtful in the process and weighed things carefully, they seem to be generally satisfied."
Council accomplished the slight reduction in the tax hike largely by shifting money from reserves to reduce the tax dollars required for certain projects.
For example, a recreation reserve fund was tapped for $100,000 to help cover upgrades projected for Rutland Centennial Park. Also, $120,000 that had been planned for 2014 design work related to the eventual rebuilding of a bridge will be used instead to improve bus service along Gordon Drive.
"That (enhancement) is very important to the transit system," said Coun. Gail Given.
As is usual at most budget-setting sessions, a relatively small item triggered one of the longest discussions. Staff had recommended not putting any money towards new Christmas decorations for Bernard Avenue next year.
However, several councillors said it was important to have some decorative lights on the main downtown street, particularly since a $14-million revitalization project is nearing completion.
"We've invested a fortune into redoing Bernard, and we want it to be first rate," said Coun. Luke Stack.
"If you can't put a little icing on the cake, what's the point of having a cake?" said Coun. Robert Hobson.
Council decided to put $40,000 into the budget for Bernard Avenue lights that will be used year-round, with the expectation the Downtown Kelowna Association would provide another $15,000.
Of the $105 million in total property taxes the city will collect next year, general civic operations take $27 million, the police budget is $25 million, and the fire department gets $14 million.
Despite the size of their respective budgets, there was little discussion on either the police or fire department files. That's because council had already decided, in 2012, to add three RCMP members in 2014.
The fire department's operating budget stayed level, but there is $1 million in new capital equipment, including $600,000 for a new truck.
Just over $14 million of taxes will be put toward $38 million worth of capital projects, with two of the biggest projects being the rebuilding of the Lakeshore Road bridge and related improvements (almost $8 million), and redevelopment of the Queensway bus terminal ($5.4 million).
As a result of council's tinkering with the provisional budget, the owner of a typical home will pay a total of $1,742 in municipal taxes next year.
This amount, however, does not include school taxes, regional district taxes, hospital taxes and other fees, which usually double the taxation demand.

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