Program improvements and maintaining core services is behind the 4.91 per cent increase in taxes for Vernonites after council endorsed the 2020 budget.
“Council has endorsed a budget that maintains quality municipal services that we have all grown accustomed to,” Mayor Victor Cumming said. “It also continues the large reinvestment in our critical infrastructure required for successful day to day functioning in the City. There are also additional investments in community safety, health and well-being.”
The tax hike will see 1.9 per cent paid toward the ongoing infrastructure levy to improve stormwater management systems, municipal roads and public buildings and parks. This infrastructure levy program is part of a 10-year program that sees a 1.9 per cent increase annually — the program is scheduled to end in 2022.
“Council has committed to provide important additional resources for Fire Rescue Services, Bylaw enforcement, recreation programming and operational equipment to help address air quality concerns,” Mayor Cumming said. “Together, these investments support the sustainability and vitality of our community, while ensuring we’re in a good position to continue to grow.”
The City of Vernon said funding for infrastructure and safety services including fire, bylaw and police, were not adequately addressed before 2012 and a small or zero tax rate, although attractive, was irresponsible.
Fire Rescue Services will see the addition of two new firefighters to staff Fire Station 2 and advance the implementation of the service’s eight-year strategy. The budget also accounted for the purchasing of key equipment to better protect the community from wildfires.
This past year, the city piloted a program to staff Fire Station 2 in Okanagan Landing with regular career firefighters and auxiliary firefighters. The program proved to boost service levels while decreasing response times to other areas of the city. This played a key role in saving structures and mitigating potentially larger fires.
A seasonal summer bylaw enforcement program also saw success over the past four years. The 2020 budget has allotted funding to enhance the program to ensure bylaw officers can patrol and respond to complaints with a focus on the downtown core and street entrenched populations.
The 2020 budget also approved funding to the Anti-Tag Team, which will focus on unwanted graffiti; Folks on Spokes and Sharps Hotline — a team dedicated to the removal of discarded needles; and a weekly clean-up program that will concentrate on the core and alleyway cleanups.
Council’s endorsement of the 2020 budget will see continued improvements to recreation services through the ongoing implementation of the 2018 Recreation Master Plan and new resources to benefit parks and public spaces, including geese control at Kin Beach and improvements of the DND ball fields.
A number of capital projects were green-lighted in the 2020 budget, including a $1.95 million water main, storm sewer and sanitary sewer replacement between 33rd and 35th streets; the construction of a new park at the Civic Arena site for $2.04 million; the $1.8 million replacement of a sewer force main on Tronson Road, which will accommodate increased flow due to development; and the completion of $1.01 million in upgrades to Pleasant Valley Road, among others.
Current councillors have had some “heavy lifting” to do in order to recover from unsustainable budget decisions, the city statement said, and the city is confident the next council will have a much less challenging time creating responsible budgets that will bring Vernon, its citizens and environment into the future.