City of Vernon chief administrative officer Will Pearce announces budget goals for 2019. The city has approved a 5.5 per cent tax increase. (Roger Knox/Morning Star)

Vernon council approves budget

Vernon taxpayers can expect a tax increase of 5.5 per cent in 2019

Vernon residents can expect a rise in taxes next year.

Council passed the 2019 budget, which includes a tax increase of 5.5 per cent, after a day-and-a-half of deliberations.

“Council approved the budget as presented,” said city chief administrative officer Will Pearce. “Every division, every department, and all 27 services changes.”

Pearce had said prior to deliberations that the proposed budget did not include a tax rate increase, but a necessary increase in tax-generated revenues.

RELATED: Vernon residents likely facing tax hike

The increase includes 1.9 per cent for capital projects; 3.67 per cent for the operating budget — money that the city needs to deliver all its programs and community services — and 1.41 per cent for filling in the use of one-time monies needed in 2017.

A major portion of the 2017 budget went to the hiring of six new police officers, five of which are now in place in the Vernon-North Okanagan RCMP detachment. The city dedicated more than $86,000 towards its bylaw division for 2019.

RELATED: Vernon budget emphasizes safety

“Council approved the seasonal bylaw enforcement program, it’s been successful,” said Pearce of the summer program that has run for the past three years. “They said, ‘let’s make it permanent.’”

The bylaw office has also been moved into the downtown core for higher visibility, and council approved three Community Safety Office pilot projects: an anti-tag team which will focus on graffiti; Folks On Spokes and the Sharps Hotline, where residents call phone and a team of trained volunteers on bikes will attend the scene with retrieval kits, remove discarded needles and take them safely to a host agency for disposal.

There will also be a weekly clean-up program for removal of discarded needles and drug paraphernalia, alley clean-ups and education.

A total of 31 capital projects totalling approximately $22 million are on the table for 2019, including the creation and installation of double roundabouts on 39th Avenue, the last connector of the north/south route which complements 27th and 32nd Streets (Highway 97).

“There will be a roundabout on either side of the rail line, and a single road off one joins the other and crosses the rail line,” said Pearce. “It will keep the traffic moving and is a safe, dedicated crossing of the line which CN Rail required.

“It will complete the third north/south route from Highway 6 to the Village Green Centre. When that multi-use path is completed, there will be a dedicated bike/pedestrian pathway from the mall to downtown, downtown to Coldstream, Coldstream to Kal Lake and Kal Lake down to Kelowna, a continuous pathway.”

Council also approved keeping $50,000 in the budget for O’Keefe Ranch operations, meaning the historic tourist attraction will receive $100,000 from the city in 2019, as opposed to $50,000 as planned a year ago.

For Mayor Victor Cumming and rookie councillors Kari Gares and Kelly Fehr, it was their first city budget experience.

“With regards to process, it was pretty seamless,” said Coun. Gares, a mortgage broker with plenty of experience with finances. “One thing, for myself, I like to go through budgets line by line. You look at it, you see the city spent X amount of dollars, and are budgeting to spend a little more for the upcoming year. That was my biggest challenge. I didn’t understand why there were such gaps.

“But going through the process, talking to administration and speaking with past councillors, you get a broader idea as to why those gaps do exist. And some of the gaps have built-in reserves that allow us when we do our strategic planning starting in January to make certain decisions right away and have the resources to implement them.”

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