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Budget provides reprieve for Penticton taxpayers

The budget deed is done, and there will be no more damage to taxpayers than last year.

Penticton council unanimously agreed to close deliberations on Tuesday after whittling down the deficit to a net zero change in the budget from 2011.

Mayor Dan Ashton said the outcome sets Penticton apart from other municipalities in B.C.

“Minus 0.5 last year and zero this year. That’s unprecedented in the province,” he said, adding that “We keep working on our efficiencies, our productivity and effectiveness at delivering services. Staff is a huge part of this.”

Ashton credited zero-based budgeting — requiring each manager to start at zero and justify each expenditure’s value before addition — and a collaborative review that involved more than 40 staff from all departments.

After whittling down the $2.1 million deficit to nothing, the 2012 budget was completed ahead of schedule. “It’s earlier than ever before. It allows us to get on with a lot of things in the spring before the city fills up with visitors,” Ashton said.

Chief finance officer Doug Leahy said he was able to breathe a sigh of relief on Wednesday after three intensive days of discussions that covered every single city department, its services and capital plans.

“It’s the first year we’ve done this format. It’s quite a drastic change, and it’s already given us some ideas for 2013. There was a lot of material to digest, and hopefully it was informative,” he said.

Three tweaks to the capital budget helped trim spending, which included reducing the allowed amount for the proposed deer cull by half to $10,000. Staff reports had indicated the cost to have a contractor cull one deer is approximately $150. The remaining budget would mean at most 66 deer could be culled, but Ashton explained it was a difficult item to budget because the city still needs to examine the ungulate population and a host of other factors.

“It’s all subject to a count. It’s all subject to approval from the province,” he said. “There’s all sorts of extenuating circumstances. We know it’s an issue. We want to deal with the issue and deal with it in a humane fashion.”

Street light pole inspections will also be scaled back to $15,000 from $75,000, and $25,000 upgrades to the coaches and locker room at the South Okanagan Events Centre have been deferred pending additional information from Global Spectrum. On the operations side, the recreation department will have to come up with an additional $70,000 in revenue from anticipated increases to user fees.

Council also decided to unanimously cover any remaining shortfall with the $800,000 surplus from 2011, topped up with a portion of $400,000 from the interest stabilization reserve fund.

Budget deliberations Tuesday afternoon had to involve council returning to the issue of providing grants to groups seeking financial support in the community.

Seven new civic grant requests were made by a various groups in the community, but only one received approval — the South Okanagan Health Fair received its one-time request of $6,000 for the first phase of establishing itself as a year-long program.

The remaining applications, as well as requests for increases to grants already provided, were denied.

Coun. John Vassilaki said he had been angry they couldn’t make allowances to accommodate the additional requests, particularly for groups servicing seniors and children.

“It really, really upset me that they choose one or another. I’d like to see everything fair for everyone,” Vassilaki said.

Ashton said a review will take place for the policy.

“Council is fully aware of the incredible work and services provided,” he said, adding they are trying to come up with ways to be as equitable as possible.

Three readings of the budget bylaw must be passed, which are scheduled to be heard before final adoption which is tentatively set for the first council meeting in February.

 

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