By Mayor Julius Bloomfield
The proposed budget for 2023 will be presented shortly and we’re expecting it to be a challenging year given the external pressures the City, like all of you, are facing. Budget deliberations are one of the most important activities we undertake annually and it is important to ensure residents are aware of and understand the pressures that are influencing the City’s finances.
That is why I am writing to residents today. Before we discuss and debate the upcoming budget, it is important to look back and remember the decisions that were made during the last budget and how they will influence our finances over the coming years. A lot has changed since the last budget was deliberated in November 2021. We were still in the pandemic, the province had provided emergency funding in 2020 to help sustain us, and community safety was a growing concern.
Council made two significant decisions then: a major investment in public safety and a tax deferral.
The decision to increase the number of police officers, add firefighters and expand the Community Safety Officer program garnered most of the attention. It was the right decision to make and the City continues to focus on safety, with more investments being looked at in light of the Community Safety Resources Review.
The tax deferral, though, was also important although not as well remembered. As the economic blows of COVID-19 were still being felt, Council wanted to mitigate the tax increase needed to add services for those who were struggling and chose to delay some of the impact to the following three years, using reserve funds to make up the difference. The tax deferral that was decided by Council was 10 per cent to be phased in over the following three budget cycles.
So how does that impact the 2023 tax rate?
We will need to address the deferrals – likely over a phased-in period – in addition to any other tax increases that are expected including contractual obligations and increased inflationary costs. Provincial legislation prevents municipalities from running a deficit and taking from the reserves is not sustainable over the long term.
Making budget decisions are never easy. As stewards of your money, the City does its best to balance the expectations for a safe, livable and vibrant community with budget constraints and requirements. And that’s why we want to hear for you. There will be some candid discussions and that’s good, as Penticton residents have never been afraid of sharing their thoughts. Part of the discussion is understanding where we’ve been, where we are and where we want to get to.
As part of the upcoming budget process, residents are invited to get involved, learn more and share your feedback. Council encourages you to get involved in this and future engagement activities as these are the opportunities to have your say and shape your city before decisions are made. You can find information about the upcoming budget and the opportunities to get involved at shapeyourcitypenticton.ca.
One of the main opportunities will be at the Council-hosted Open House set for March 9 at the Trade and Convention Centre. Drop by between 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. to speak to council and members of staff. There are a variety topics up for discussion – including several components of community safety and the utility rate review – and all of them have budget implications. There will also be an online engagement process to ensure everyone has a chance to provide input.
We have some very important issues to deal with this term and we encourage residents to take steps now to get involved in the future of the community in ways they may never have before – beginning with attending this Council Open House. We look forward to seeing you there.
READ MORE: Special council meeting on Feb. 28 to release draft 2023-2027 financial plan