West Kelowna in review
Some projects had to be put on hold or scaled back, departments reduced costs and hiring for new positions were delayed.
That was part of the price the City of West Kelowna paid in responding to the economic crisis felt by residents and businesses resulting from COVID-19.
“It put a much heavier workload on staff, on council and the whole community,” said Mayor Gord Milson during a year-end interview.
The city slashed its tax rate by two per cent to help taxpayers soften the blow, and felt the loss of revenues, specifically from recreation, transit and a deferment of penalties for late taxes and utility payments.
“We approved some short-term borrowing of up to $6 million, but we never had to use that.
“We received $4.6 million in restart funding. I think we are using about $1.2 million to cover any shortfalls in revenue and additional costs as a result of COVID-19.
“We got through it OK. By and large we are in good shape.”
He also praised the community for the way it has come together in a time of crisis.
“I am grateful for the compassion showed by businesses, non-profit organizations, faith organizations and individuals who have helped people deal with the financial and emotional issues we have been dealing with through COVID-19,” he said.
“Council is really proud of those efforts. I believe it has made our community stronger, and more compassionate.”
Despite an uncertain future, Milsom says signs continue to indicate West Kelowna is a desirable place for both residents, and businesses.
He says the value of new building permits reached $95 million by the end of the third quarter, putting it on pace to be one of the best construction years since incorporation in 2007. The city also saw 433 new business licenses approved through the end of September, an all time high.
“Having said that, there are some businesses that have been impacted more than others. Businesses related to travel, accommodations, tourism, some retail businesses, entertainment and the arts.
“Council is concerned about that obviously, but some were able to adapt. We have quite a diversified economic base. We’re not dependent on one particular sector as maybe some other communities are.”
While some projects were scaled back, other large infrastructure projects were started, or completed.
The largest of those, the $75 million Rose Valley Water Treatment Plant, which broke ground in 2020.
Preliminary work began earlier this year while, at the same time, the 18,000 residents who will get water from the new plant approved the city’s long-term borrowing for the project.
A tender for construction of the plant itself will be awarded in January, with construction expected to begin in February.
Milsom highlighted several other projects, including:
- The Gellatly Road bridge complete with new bike lanes and sidewalks.
- Completion of a majority of improvements to Glenrosa Road which included new storm drainage and sidewalks on both sides of the road from Glenrosa Middle School to McGinnis road.
- 2.2 lane kilometres of new sidewalks
- 1.9 lane kilometres of new bike lanes
- 14.1 lane kilometres of rehabilitated city streets
“Another big win for the community is the announcement of the new urgent and primary care centre. It’s been a priority of council since we incorporated in 2007,” said Milsom.
The centre is only open for limited hours on weekdays, but Milsom says the centre will be open seven days a week and hours will be expanded in the new year.
Milsom also pointed to the response of residents for the visioning exercise the city began in 2020, which asks for a vision of the future as the city gets ready to update its Official Community Plan.
Looking ahead, a new set of regulations around what is presently an unregulated short-term rental industry is expected to be adopted in 2021.
The city will also continue to advocate for for density, development, and redevelopment of its downtown core.
“We’ll continue to move forward in so many positive ways,” said Milsom.
“Given that this year has been such a tough year, our community has met those challenges with both compassion and resiliency.
“We are proud of everything our staff, our businesses and residents have accomplished.”