The Canadian Taxpayer Federation said the City of Penticton has earned a place on Santa’s naughty list, but Mayor Andrew Jakubeit said the city really deserves better than a lump of coal this Christmas.
“Three or four years ago, we were on their nice list because we had a zero per cent tax increase,” said Jakubeit. But maintaining that ate too far into the city’s reserves, and left the city lagging.
“Now someone has to pay the piper. It’s compounding the financial realities of our community. We need to invest in our facilities and our infrastructure,” said Jakubeit. “In the past we’ve always focused on where can we cut, instead of spending some time on how can we grow.”
CTF B.C. director Jordan Bateman said, in his release, that Jakubeit and city council earned a nomination to the naughty list over the Skaha Lake Park controversy, for hiring a communications officer and an engagement officer, and adding 10 city managers during a time when the city’s population only grew by 411 people.
“As the public face of the city, the mayor should be the one engaging the public,” said Bateman in the release. “Santa likes to vacation in Penticton, but city spending is going in the wrong direction and makes him wonder what’s really going on.”
Using the 411 person growth statistic makes hiring 10 managers seem excessive, Jakubeit said, but added it doesn’t take in the whole picture., but added it isn’t the whole picture of Penticton’s growth.
In 2009, the city cut 31 positions under the core review process. But like a business, Jakubeit said, a city needs to respond to market conditions, adding staff when busy and adjusting when not.
“The real estate guys are saying the last two years have been the busiest times, so I am confident our population is growing,” said Jakubeit. “This year, we hit $1 billion in real estate sales. As of Monday, we were at $190 million in construction value (of building permits), versus $60 million last year.”
Three of the positions, Jakubeit added, were existing ones, that were exempted from the union.
“We moved them out because they were dealing with sensitive matters. Technically we added seven,” said Jakubeit. “When you get busier you need to adjust and add staff, because people still want the services.”
Jakubeit agrees going out to the public and being accessible to the public is part of council’s job, but points out the communications co-ordinator position was created five years ago, and the engagement consultant was in response to trying to create better communications channels with the populations.
“What we are trying to do is build a platform or get feedback to engage with the 34,000 residents,” said Jakubeit. “That seems simple but it is a bit more complex to get people to spend a bit of extra time to voice their ideas or concerns.”
Around the dinner table, or chatting at the water cooler, everyone seems to have an opinion on what the city should be doing, said Jakubeit, but it is tough to translate that into something that city council or staff get to see.
“Traditional methods haven’t been working,” said Jakubeit. “We want to have a mechanism where we can fire out some information and get some feedback on whatever the issue, concern or opportunity is.”
Jakubeit said that looking back, the city would have done things differently, but the leasing deal with Trio Marine Group was intended to add revenue to city coffers, through badly needed upgrade and expansion to the Skaha Marina at no cost to the city, property taxes and lease payments.
“For the first time in our history there would have been revenue sharing. It was a novel way of looking at increasing revenues for the community,” said Jakubeit.
“Perhaps it was too big too soon, or the fact that using green space was too controversial. That’s a lesson learned and no one expected it to snowball to where it got to.”