BEYOND THE HEADLINES: Finding a balance

Columnist Richard Rolke provides his thoughts on the City of Vernon's 2016 budget

It would be easy to look at the City of Vernon’s provisional 2016 budget and only be fixated on another tax increase.

However, at a time when it’s easy to accuse politicians and bureaucrats of ignoring the public’s wishes, the financial process clearly indicates that community interests have been embraced even if that means there is a cost involved.

Case in point is beefed-up security at Polson Park.

“Private security will patrol the park between midnight and 6 a.m. from May 1 to Sept. 30,” said Shirley Koenig.

Given that there are people who walk or run through the park at all hours, the $16,800 price tag is peanuts compared to the additional sense of safety that will be provided.

Another addition was directly related to concerns about Pleasant Valley Cemetery and the tinder-dry landscaping this summer.

“It’s not looking attractive which a cemetery should because there’s so much emotion attached to it,” said Coun. Catherine Lord of people going to visit their loved ones.

In the end, council did the right thing and earmarked $28,000 to restore cemetery irrigation, which had been cut in 2015 for financial reasons.

And there was an early Christmas present for residents frustrated with high speed and traffic volume on 25th Street.

City staff originally recommended a sidewalk on 25th Street from 35th Avenue to Pleasant Valley Road, but council ultimately gave the nod to expediting the entire length of 25th Street from 30th Avenue to 46th Avenue.

“We have the money available in the gas tax reserve so it makes sense to extend the size of the project to get more competitive bids and get a bigger bang for our buck,” said Coun. Bob Spiers, who pushed for the scope of the work to expand to $835,000.

“There is also a safety factor for citizens accessing schools, etc. along the route. It makes sense to accelerate and complete the project rather than spread it over three more years.”

But perhaps the most significant example of the powers-that-be listening to the public is hiring two more police officers.

As a result, the RCMP’s downtown enforcement unit, which was sidelined because of a lack of resources, can hit the ground running.

And that’s important given the recent discussion about vandalism, panhandling and overall safety in the downtown core. These two officers can not only identify individuals who may be responsible for many of the problems, but develop strong relationships with merchants and residents, and particularly those who are vulnerable.

Each officer costs about $165,000 when wages, vehicles and equipment are factored in. But it’s likely many residents see that as money well spent if they can walk downtown in relative safety.

It should also be pointed out that many of these additional items are not being directly paid for by taxes. The funds are either coming from reserves (which will need to be replenished if reduced too low) or from other sources of revenue.

In the end, one could argue that the entire budget process demonstrates that city council and staff are fully aware of the challenging economic times facing families and businesses.

Yes taxes went up, but only by 1.5 per cent to cover the actual running of the city and the provision of services residents either require or demand. That’s barely the cost of living. The other 1.9 per cent on the tax bill is dedicated to infrastructure, and most residents understand the need to fix potholes, maintain sidewalks and repair aging utility lines.

Tough decisions had to be made while hammering out the budget, but instead of just belt tightening or spending frivolously, a balance was found that should be acceptable to most residents.