Penticton mayor set for first budget at helm of city

But Litke being coy about whether council will raise taxes after three years with no increases

Mayor Garry Litke isn’t sure he’s ready for the budget process that begins today, joking that it is a very big binder to read through and a bigger undertaking.

He’s also not ready to answer the question of whether a property tax increase for 2014 is on the table, though he admits he is concerned about continuing to draw on the city’s reserves to make up budget shortfalls.

“I have taken that question to the Financial Review Advisory Committee,” said Litke. “There is some worry that continuing zero per cent (tax increase) is not sustainable.”

Decisions about the tax requirement, Litke said, will be made after council has a chance to review all the documents adding that if this were an ideal world, they would come out of the process with needs and the city’s income balanced. Otherwise, council only has three ways to balance the budget: cutting services, drawing on the city’s reserve accounts and increasing taxes.

“I can say that the grants requests are way in excess of what the city has to spend. So there will be some hard decisions there,” said Litke.

Litke is also looking forward to getting to the road improvement and repair budget, which he said has not been well funded. As a cost cutting measure, road work has been limited in recent years.

“Now we are getting neighbourhood groups coming to us and asking what is happening to their road and taxes,” said Litke. “We have to pay attention to that.”

The budget talks are planned for five public sessions between Nov. 29 and Dec. 18, covering a wide array of spending decisions in both operating and capital budgets.

Though it is a big undertaking, Litke said the formatting of the discussions has improved since he was elected eight years ago, making them easier to follow, not only for council, but for the public at large.

“Approving the City of Penticton budget is a great deal of work, with hours devoted to reviewing expenses line by line to ensure appropriate service levels and spending,” said Litke. “We welcome all citizens to be part of the process, as their input helps council with the important decisions to come.”

Time will be set aside each day at 8:45 a.m. to allow citizens and stakeholders to ask questions, provide comments and give suggestions related to that day’s topics.

All budget meetings will be streamed live at www.penticton.ca/live-video, and city staff will also be monitoring Twitter on the @cityofpenticton account. Citizens can use the hashtag #penbudget14 to make comments, suggestions and questions. Responses will be provided directly to the original poster as soon as they are available. Budget presentations are available online as well.

All meetings are scheduled to take place in Council Chambers in City Hall.

Friday, Nov. 29, 8:45 a.m. to 4:35 p.m.: financial overview, strategic priorities, capital budgets

Tuesday, Dec. 3, 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.: municipal grants

Wednesday, Dec. 4,  8:45 a.m. to 4:10 p.m.: operating budgets

Friday, Dec. 6, 8:45 a.m. to 4 p.m.: operating budgets

Wednesday, Dec. 18, 10 a.m.: revenue, reserves and rates

For more information, contact 250-490-2400.