Council

West Kelowna city councillors, sitting at least two metres apart from one another at a Tuesday night meeting, have told municipal staff to examine all ways a planned tax hike of 4.8% could be reduced in the wake of economic damage being caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

The coronavirus pandemic has triggered a delay in West Kelowna’s discussions about how to pay for a new water treatment plant.

Rather than approve a planned 13% water rate hike at Tuesday’s meeting, council put off a decision for at least two weeks.

The delay, councillors agreed unanimously, was necessary to give city staff time to examine all the ways the municipality might cut costs to deal with the pandemic’s burgeoning financial fallout.

“There are those in our community who are struggling to make ends meet, with many laid off and not having an income,” said Coun. Rick de Jong.

“I think it’s important that we find ways to assist in helping residents with the burden they’re facing at this time,” said Coun. Stephen Johnston.

“We’re in unprecedented times. Desperate times call for desperate measures,” said Coun. Jayson Zilkie.

While supporting a delay in consideration of the appropriate funding mechanisms for the water treatment plant, councillors also expressed support for the project moving forward.

“A well-thought-out plan financially is in place,” said Coun. Doug Findlater. “I’m OK with tinkering it, playing with it. But I think clean water is also a very big public health priority in this community, and we’ve heard that for years.

“I don’t want to see the whole project delayed significantly,” Findlater said.

But Findlater and other councillors stressed the need for city officials to look for all ways possible to reduce the planned municipal tax hike of 4.8%, set to take effect this summer.

The city has received $41 million in provincial and federal grants for the Rose Valley water treatment plant.

A civil works tender, which carried an estimate of $8 million, has been awarded for $6 million.

The city’s share of the project will be financed through the higher water rates, as well as a planned $150 parcel tax that still must be approved by council.

City manager Paul Gipps said Tuesday the parcel tax, if and when it’s approved by council, would replace a similar amount now paid by customers through their utility bills.

This point was not made clear in the report provided to council for Tuesday’s meeting. At the meeting, Gipps said the proposed parcel tax should not be seen as a new fee, but as a replacement funding mechanism.

“It’s not an add-on,” Gipps said.

Construction of the water treatment plant was expected to begin this summer, but no firm date has been set.