KELOWNA - It will be two or three months before Kelowna city council sets its official priorities for the next four years, but last night re-elected mayor Colin Basran set out his priorities in an address following the swearing in ceremony at city hall.
Basran's speech last night, Nov. 5, seemed right on target to represent the wishes of this “new” city council, based on the comments of Loyal Wooldridge, the only new councillor elected on Oct. 20 along with seven incumbents.
“I met with him (Basran) today,” Wooldridge said Monday, noting they talked about his own priorities. “He asked if I’d read his speech.”
Wooldridge spoke to iNFOnews.ca recently after going through his first orientation session. At that session all councillors were asked by city manager Doug Gilchrist to draft a list of three to five priorities to bring back to the policy setting discussions to be held in January and February.
In that interview, Wooldridge pointed to park development and his focus on the Journey Home homeless strategy as key priorities for his first term in office. Basran hit on both those points – along with others – in his inaugural address.
On the other extreme of council experience is Luke Stack, re-elected for his fourth term and the only councillor to have spent more time at city hall than Basran.
“I think he covered it quite well,” Stack said after the swearing in ceremony.
If it was up to him, Stack said, he would have been more specific on issues. For him, a priority is rebuilding Parkinson Recreation Centre. Again, Basran hit on that theme in his comments.
Stack pointed out that, with all incumbents re-elected, that was seen as an endorsement of the direction the past council was taking, without a need to rethink their approach.
“We’re on the right track,” he said.
The inaugural council meeting was mostly ceremonial. The only formal business was to appoint councillors to the Regional District of the Central Okanagan, which meets Thursday.
There was only one change to Kelowna’s delegate list. Wooldridge replaces Tracy Gray, who did not run for re-election. Current chair Gail Given will return to the board along with Maxine DeHart, Brad Sieben, Charlie Hodge, Stack and Basran. Mohini Singh is the alternate.
The only councillor not on the list is Ryan Donn who, Basran said, could not serve because it creates a conflict with his job (he runs the Creekside Theatre in Lake Country).
Basran’s inaugural speech, just like his re-election campaign, focused on the positive and the good working relationship he has with his council.
“While some other municipal councils are fighting amongst each other and maybe not accomplishing very much, we are the opposite,” Basran said.
He wants to continue that positive approach while recognizing there are some tough decisions for this council in the next four years.
Key points he focused on included continuing to support the Journey Home process to deal with homelessness and dealing with crime downtown.
"Criminals and criminal activity have no place in Kelowna,” Basran said.
He stressed the need to battle climate change while keeping Kelowna welcoming to business and entrepreneurs, to focus growth on urban town centres, to encourage a variety of housing options, to work on building the Highway 33 connector as the top road priority while improving transit and “active” travel.
He wants to work with Penticton, West Kelowna and Vernon on a regional rapid transit system.
But for those concerned about the city taxes increasing at twice the rate of inflation under his first term as mayor, there doesn’t appear to be any relief in sight.
“As one of the fastest growing cities in the country, the demand for increased services grows and so too do the pressures on our well maintained but aging infrastructure,” he said. “The reality is we are starting to fall behind in some key areas and are expanding in infrastructure deficit.
“We will face the challenges of our community head on and do so in a fiscally responsible manner, making sure that tax dollars are spent on projects of value that meet multiple objectives.
“It’s not acceptable to hide from today’s realities to further burden the generations of the future just so we can say we kept your taxes artificially low.”
He promoted culture, inclusion and diversity and, possibly as a response to criticism during the election campaign about not listening to the Kelowna residents, he said, “community engagement will continue to be a priority and a regular part of our governance process.”
Four years ago, council set six key priorities. Five of those were included in Basran’s comments last night: urban centres, healthy and inclusive community, transportation, encouraging business and strong financial management.
What is not there is the number one item on the mayor's 2014 list of priorities: clean drinking water. That is being dealt with, in part, with the city’s takeover of the South East Kelowna Irrigation District and the major upgrade to that system that’s now underway.
Basran has said in the past the other three major irrigation districts need to be brought under city management but there was no mention of that Monday.
In 2016, council added four more items to their list of priorities, three of which were addressed by Basran: housing diversity, homelessness and public safety.
The fourth item, preserving agricultural land, was not mentioned Monday. During its last term, council adopted an agricultural plan to address those issues.
Council gets back to its regular meeting schedule on Nov 19.
Two big issues it will deal with by the end of the year is a report on downtown crime drafted by former RCMP Supt. Bill McKinnon and the 2019 provisional budget discussions scheduled for Dec. 13.
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