Penticton council approved a 9.5 per cent tax increase during its last day of budget deliberations this week, following a late push to bring the total to five per cent instead.
Local politicians gathered on Thursday, March 16 to make their final decisions on the city’s 2023 budget, with a contentious, hour-long discussion ending with the final stamp of approval for the proposed 9.5 per cent tax increase.
Councillors James Miller, Helena Konanz and Ryan Graham opposed the budget while Mayor Julius Bloomfield, who says the hike will mostly be used for community-safety initiatives, voted in favour of it along with councillors Isaac Gilbert, Campbell Watt and Amelia Boultbee.
City staff say the hike will cost the average homeowner just under $15 per month, with commercial property owners on the hook for $58.
The proposed 9.5 per cent hike was put into question after Konanz brought forward a motion to lower the total to five per cent by using general surplus funds, notably the recent $7.2 million grant from the B.C. government.
“There are still people in trouble right now,” the councillor said. “A lot of COVID funds have run out for business, for people…it’s a tough time and I think it’s the perfect time to use this surplus and possibly the $7 million to inject in that surplus and bring (the hike) down to five per cent.”
Her push to avoid the increase of 9.7 per cent was heavily debated and later referred to by Watt as a “band-aid.”
“Taxes don’t vanish and don’t go away, they shift,” Watt said. “There isn’t one person in this horseshoe that wants taxes to go up $1, but I’m really scared that they’re going to be 12 to 15 per cent if we do something like this.”
Konanz said she’s hearing of instances where other B.C. municipalities are using the provincial grant to lower a proposed tax hike.
“I don’t what they’re doing that we can’t.”
Boutlbee, who voted against Konanz’ amendment, appeared to initially consider the idea based on “whether we think the economy is going to get significantly better” later in the year.
“I will support it if we think the economy is improving but if not, I think we’ll have to make the tough (9.7 per cent) decision today,” she said. “We have to face the music at some point, it’s just when?”
Konanz watched her motion fail, with Bloomfield, Gilbert, Watt and Boutlbee opposed.
Penticton’s previous council deferred a 3.3 tax hike during the pandemic, which will now be included in the new 9.5 per cent increase.
While staff initially proposed a 9.7 per cent tax increase, council managed to bring the hike down by 0.2 percent.
“Are we going to show the public of true cost of our services now? Or, are we going to keep taxes low for a period of time artificially,” Boutlbee asked.
Bloomfield called the budget deliberations one of the “best-debated” since serving as an elected official.
Staff will present council with the $115 million operating Financial Plan Bylaw for adoption in April, with the addition of four firefighters and two RCMP officers included in the policy.