HE SAID, HE SAID: Breaking down the rhetoric from main rivals for Kelowna mayor - InfoNews

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HE SAID, HE SAID: Breaking down the rhetoric from main rivals for Kelowna mayor

Tom Dyas, left, and Colin Basran pose together as part of a Memorial Cup bid committee for the Kelowna Rockets, taken in May. Since then, the two men who once called each other friends and worked on several initiatives together, won't be seen in too many more photos.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED/Kelowna Rockets
October 19, 2018 - 12:15 PM

KELOWNA - A key reason Tom Dyas gives for running against his former friend Colin Basran for Mayor of Kelowna is Basran’s lack of leadership and failure to keep his promises.

But when iNFOnews.ca looked at what has Dyas has said or written, it’s hard to find any specifics. And when it comes to solutions, it’s hard to find any of those.

Here’s a look at some of the key areas of concern raised by Dyas.

LEADERSHIP

Neither candidate has been able to effectively define leadership.

In his latest attack, Dyas issued a press release following a mayor’s forum at UBC Okanagan where Basran was asked about people abandoning his campaign.

Basran was surprised by the question, saying he didn’t know of anyone leaving. That may be true of Basran’s current team but Dyas’ press release said Basran’s campaign manager Garry Benson from the 2011 campaign was now Dyas’ campaign manager.

“I do not support Colin for Mayor because I do not believe Colin has the necessary leadership ability to effectively engage the community, which is critical in order to be a good Mayor,” Benson said in the press release. “I feel he has not fulfilled the commitments he has made.”

One specific “commitment” was cited in a Sept. 26 Dyas press release that accused Basran of reneging on an agreement with four irrigation districts to improve the quality of water in Kelowna. Instead, the city entered into an agreement to take over the South East Kelowna Irrigation District — the smallest of the four — at a cost of system upgrades that will surpass $80 million.

“For the water districts, it was a bizarre turnaround and not just a slap in the face but a complete betrayal,” Rutland Water Board Chair Garry Zarr said in a press release.

Basran has not commented specifically on either press release. Certainly, Benson’s “departure” predated the current campaign.

Basran told iNFOnews.ca that improving water quality was one of the key issues for this council in the first two years of its mandate. An agreement was reached with South East Kelowna Irrigation District that brought with it major senior government funding.

He said the consolidation of water utilities needs to continue over the next four years so there are back ups if one of the systems fails or is contaminated. There also needs to be work done on upper elevation storage to help control spring flooding.

In order to get senior government funding, water utilities have to be part of the municipal system, a rule that was changed since the original 2012 agreement was signed.

Basran continues as a director of the Kelowna Joint Water Committee along with the chairs of the irrigation districts.

DOWNTOWN CRIME

This has been big issue of this campaign with Dyas complaining not enough is being done to deal with crime downtown in the short term, implying a lack of leadership on Basran’s part.

Dyas sat on the Journey Home Task Force as president of the Kelowna Chamber of Commerce. That task force was created under the direction of Basran and city council last fall to address the growing concerns over homelessness. It completed that work this summer and is continuing with a restructured committee and plans to hire an executive director by the end of the year.

Dyas has praised Journey Home but complains it doesn’t offer immediate solutions to current problems. So, what would he do?

“Immediately, as mayor I would bring all the key agencies, stakeholders and those directly affected by the homelessness to the table,” he writes on his webpage. “We would implement a short-term set of actions to address the current crisis based upon an agreed plan and timeline.”

Dyas has also pushed for bringing back auxiliary police officers and a community court.

“We’ve invested considerably, adding RCMP officers, bylaw officers and private security with a view to addressing crime,” Basran states on his website. “Criminals who prey on the vulnerable, homeless, addicted or mentally ill or committing property crime will not be tolerated. We hired former RCMP Superintendent Bill McKinnon to increase (sic) to find long-term solutions. His report will be completed this fall, outlining measures to increase safety downtown and we’ve already implemented recommendations like a needle pick-up program.”

At a Tuesday, Oct. 16, forum Basran pointed out the auxiliary police program was halted because of an injury to an officer and is in the process of being re-established.

Basran also pointed out efforts like the Journey Home strategy will get more people off the streets and into treatment and housing, lessening the need to hire more police and bylaw officers.

TRANSPORTATION

The city recently agreed to focus more future housing in five city centres and put a greater emphasis on transit, walking and bike paths. The idea is to get more people living near where they work so they are less reliant on cars.

“Traffic congestion on Hwy 97, Enterprise and Springfield Roads, as well as communities from Upper to Lower Mission, Glenmore and other areas is one of my main concerns,” Dyas states on his webpage. “The current council has made little to no progress on these major issues in the past few years. As Mayor, I will ensure this is once again a top priority and progress is swift and substantive.

“Furthermore, the much studied, and much promised, North End Connector (truck bypass) has been shelved by the current council and this is unacceptable. In addition, we need to seriously consider a second crossing of Lake Okanagan for the safety of all our citizens.”

Basran has made it clear that his top transportation priority is the North End Connector from Spall Road past UBC Okanagan, but that it takes time and money.

“This will ease congestion on Highway 97 and Enterprise Way,” he writes on his webpage. “This major project is dependent on grant funding from senior levels of government. When Provincial and Federal governments unveil a new funding program for roads (which doesn’t exist currently), the strong relationships I’ve built with both will improve our chances of successful applications.

In forums he’s pointed out that a second crossing of Okanagan Lake will likely mean the relocation of the Queensway bus terminal and the city works yard on Hardy Road – at a cost approaching $100 million.

He’s also pointed to the long-awaited completion of John Hindle Drive from Glenmore Road to UBCO as proof that the automobile is not dead in Kelowna.

TAXES

On his web page, Dyas seems to be advocating for a change in the distribution of Kelowna’s tax burden in order to benefit businesses.

“The overall health and prosperity of a city is partially based on high employment rates and good wages to support a good standard of living. One of the key factors in having good business in our city is to have a very competitive business tax base …. As Mayor, I will ensure whichever tax model we use is attractive to businesses, is competitive, and provides good value for all citizens.”

That implies that Kelowna does not have a competitive business tax rate. But, if the business tax is cut, residential taxes will have to go up in order to bring in the same revenue.

“We were recently ranked #1 by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business for keeping our operational spending low for taxpayers and third best for overall spending,” Basran said on his webpage.

“Small business owners and entrepreneurs are the backbone of our local economy. The more money in their pocket, the more they can invest to grow business and help create employment opportunities for residents. To support our local businesses and allow them to thrive, the City of Kelowna has maintained one of the lowest business tax class ratios in British Columbia.

The numbers:

There are 16 B.C. cities with 75,000 or more people. Add in Prince George for good measure (74,000) and Kelowna is in the middle of the pack when it comes to business tax rates at number nine.

As far as the Okanagan goes, Kelowna is actually one of the most expensive.

Taxes are based on the mill rate per $1,000 of assessed value. The numbers below come from the Government of B.C. and are for municipal taxes only so do not include charges for things like utilities, school or hospital taxes.

Okanagan business tax rates are:
Peachland        6.4561
Penticton          6.8450
Lake Country    7.8427
West Kelowna  8.2898
Kelowna           8.3521
Vernon             10.3213

As for residential tax rates, Kelowna is the 5th highest of the 18 larger cities in B.C. but ranks in the middle of the pack in the Okanagan.
Lake Country    3.1534
West Kelowna  3.5578
Kelowna           3.6366
Vernon             3.7822
Peachland        3.3980
Penticton          4.3323

One common complaint about the existing mayor and council is that Kelowna’s tax rates have been about double the inflation rate.

But comparing the Consumer Price Index (CPI) for households is not the same as what some call the Municipal Price Index (MPI).

Edmonton, for example, compared the cost increases on a mix of goods and services it bought between 2013 and 2017. Only in 2014 was its municipal inflation rate lower than the CPI.

In 2017, Edmonton’s CPI was 1.54% while the MPI was 2.32% - almost one full percentage point higher.

If that translates to Kelowna – where the CPI is based more on groceries vs the bricks and mortar the city buys – then the roughly 16% tax increase over the past four years is not double the rate of inflation but closer to 25% higher.

COMING BACK TO LEADERSHIP

“My role as Mayor is to facilitate good fact finding and discussion, communicate with all key parties, then collectively decide on the best solutions and lead the drive for action and result,” Dyas wrote on his web page. “I will lead collaboration, with the focus and determination to achieve the best for the citizens of Kelowna.”

Basran, at forums, stresses that he has a good relationship with the people he deals with and that most of the issues being raised have been well studied already.

And he has endorsements from five of the seven incumbent councillors running for re-election. Some of them say they didn’t start off well with Basran but now praise his leadership skills.

“We have a booming economy that we’ve fostered by inspiring an entrepreneurial spirit, supporting our farming community, championing sustainable tourism, and working with our world-class educational institutions and health authority,” he wrote on his webpage.

“We’ve become younger, more innovative, and more diverse. We’re making responsible, forward-looking investments in infrastructure and building resiliency to mitigate climate change. And despite what you might hear, we’re accomplishing this as one of the most efficiently managed and most financially responsible municipalities in the Province.”

Voters get to decide Saturday, Oct. 20, on which man speaks for the future of Kelowna.


To contact a reporter for this story, email Rob Munro or call 250-808-0143 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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