With day one of city budget deliberations under his belt, new Mayor Andrew Jakubeit is already optimistic about the end result.
“I think we’re at a very good starting point, we have a $315,000 shortfall. Going into last year’s budget process we were a little over $900,000 we were short on and years previous it was $1.7 or $2 million that we had to somehow cut or take out of reserves or find a way to balance,” said Jakubeit as council was set to begin the next series of discussions Dec. 10 on the city’s operational expenses. “Last year was the first time we actually had a tax increase of two per cent and if you look back over the last five years we’ve always been at zero so going to this, which I think is a 1.2 per cent tax increase even if we didn’t lift a finger, is a good starting point.
“Council is going to have to find that balance point as to what they think is responsible to the taxpayers and themselves and doesn’t shortchange or handcuff administration now or down the road.”
Prior to council budget presentations, city staff reduced the budget by $833,000 resulting in the $315,000 net operating deficit.
That deficit had been incorrectly reported as $833,000 in a Dec. 5 Western News story.
The Dec. 8 session was devoted only to the city’s capital budget – the annual overview of projects relating to community infrastructure.
The next round of discussions will be on the operational budget and were scheduled to begin Dec. 10 followed by another one Dec. 16.
Deliberations on grants and deliberations are tentatively set for Dec. 17.
“I think tomorrow (Dec. 10) being the first day of the operational budget, I think that’s where there will be a lot more debate,” said Jakubeit. “Economic development is the first thing on the slate and they’ve asked for some increases and I think tourism is next so I think Wednesday is going to be a bit more exciting and interesting.”
The mayor is also hoping the public will show more of an interest in the future budget talks, saying at the start of the 8:30 a.m. sessions people have a five-minute period to voice concerns or ask questions.
As well, comments and questions can by made online or through other social media.
He admitted there are challenges with four new faces on council but is not expecting any significant delays or problems.
“Some (councillors) just don’t have the history of how we dealt with (matters) in the past or what some of our strategic priorities or master plans on this or that are, but they’re quick studies,” said Jakubeit. “We’re trying to make our decisions on a solid business case and what are the comfort and balance levels.”
Proposals during the day of capital budget discussions featured a variety of projects including those under the strategic priority category: downtown revitalization (the 100-200 blocks of Main Street), downtown washrooms and SS Sicamous area design work.
The city is applying for grants and considering applying Federal Gas Tax funds to go towards these projects
Other larger capital projects proposed included:
• Westminster Substation transformer purchase partnership with FortisBC. ($1.925 million in 2015, part of the $4.967 million price phased over two years)
• Reconstruction of Corry Place, an older neighbourhood that has petitioned council requesting curb, gutter, storm drain systems due to localized flooding, as well as underground infrastructure upgrades at a price of $895,000
• Water main replacement projects for replacements in two areas of the city for $1.15 million
• Upsizing the sanitary sewer system for the Penticton Regional Hospital to serve the patient care tower expansion for $927,000.
Other expenditures brought forward included equipment upgrades and replacement for Penticton Fire Rescue and the request for consideration of an outdoor skating rink in the area of Gyro Park.