Council aims to be ‘fiscally responsible’

Potential tax hikes could be sidelined as a way of supporting recession-weary Vernonites.

Potential tax hikes could be sidelined as a way of supporting recession-weary Vernonites.

Members of city council continue to develop the 2012 budget.

“The sentiment on council is we don’t want to see an increase in taxes,” said Mayor Rob Sawatzky.

“But we will have to see how it goes over the course of our deliberations.”

Council recently established a tax increase range of zero to 2.3 per cent so discussions can proceed.

Sawatzky points out that council duties only began Dec. 5 and he and some of the councillors are completely new to the civic process.

“We don’t know what’s been committed to and what’s been promised (by the previous administration),” he said.

“But these are tough economic times and it would be irresponsible to do anything but be fiscally responsible.”

Sawatzky doesn’t believe increased knowledge of the budget and operations will force him to back off a promised review of city services.

“I’m not sure a single budget will change that but the budget will definitely be part of the education,” he said.

Sawatzky says the end result of a review is not to cut services or lay staff off, but he admits that some operational changes could occur.

“The hope is we don’t have to make too many tough decisions.”

Tying in with the budget and a service review will be trying to increase city revenue through economic development.

“We need to communicate with the people who drive the economy and see what we can do (for them),” said Sawatzky.

“By law, council is limited in its authority but we can collaborate with business people.”

Sawatzky believes Vernon is well poised to stimulate the economy and job growth while addressing public concerns about urban sprawl.

“We have an official community plan and a lot of work went into it. We also have the city centre neighbourhood plan,” he said.

A contentious issue over the past year has been the installation of bicycle paths, particularly as part of reducing vehicle lanes in commercial areas.

Sawatzky isn’t sure if his council will continue with that focus or take a different direction.

“Whether anything will happen in today’s economic environment, I don’t know,” he said.

Another issue on council’s radar during 2012 will be the city’s relationship with Coldstream and the Regional District of North Okanagan.

Sawatzky began trying to address conflicts over water and parks and water prior to even being elected as mayor.

“Things are driven by the attitude and intent of people,” he said of local officials.

“If people want peace, prosperity and good government, people will work hard at it.”

However, Sawatzky admits there will be times when the interests of Vernon may differ from the needs of neighbouring jurisdictions.

“You need to understand your perspective and their perspective and hope there is enough overlap,” he said.