Okanagan’s newest library branch won't require tax increase | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Okanagan’s newest library branch won't require tax increase

The cost of building a new West Kelowna library won't be passed on to taxpayers.
Image Credit: Submitted/City of West Kelowna

The proposed $8 million West Kelowna library branch will come with no additional cost to taxpayers.

It’s part of a $26 million building that will be built next to the Johnson Bentley Memorial Aquatic Centre with $18 million of the total cost allocated to the City of West Kelowna for its city hall that will take up the majority of the space in the building.

“Borrowing rates right now are so low we’re able to secure a loan that, over time, will be less than the lease itself (on the existing branch) and we’re acquiring an asset that’s a really positive thing for the organization and all the member communities,” Michal Utko, director of marketing and communications for the Okanagan Regional Library, told iNFOnews.ca.

News of the new library had some taxpayers in the region publicly speculating about rising taxes to pay for it but the library board confirmed that's not true.

Since the Municipal Finance Authority, which offers lower interest rates than banks, can only lend money to regional districts, residents of the Central Okanagan are the only residents in the library district that have a say on whether the new branch will go ahead.

If 10 per cent of eligible voters (16,478) in the region sign petitions against the project it would be defeated through the alternative approval process. The petitions have to be in by July 12.

Even if there was going to be a tax increase to cover the cost of building the new branch, that cost would be shared over the entire regional library district, not just by Central Okanagan residents.

The Okanagan Regional Library system operates in 24 communities with 31 branches stretching from Princeton to Golden, Salmon Arm to Osoyoos. Only the City of Penticton is not a member.

The board is made up of one representative from each municipal council and regional district. While most issues are settled based on one vote per board member, financial matters are decided through weighted votes, with Kelowna carrying about one-third of the votes.

The board sets an annual budget of about $20 million, Chief Executive Officer Don Nettleton said.

That’s allocated to each local government based 50 per cent on population and 50 per cent on property values.

Any increases to the budget are passed on to local governments. Rates may vary based on how each community structures their mil rates but is about $80 a year in the Central Okanagan.

Certainly, the board could agree to a major increase in the library’s budget and that would be passed on to taxpayers without local councils being able to block the increase.

That's not likely to happen.

“It would be nice if they did that because we’re a library system that, I think, is underfunded compared to most of the province by about 30 per cent,” Nettleton said. “The reality is, they’re balancing all the other things they have in their communities, like police and fire service, and they’re all aware of that. They have to go back to their other council members and justify why they’re doing what they’re doing.”

Not all new library branches come as cheap as West Kelowna. The Vernon branch, for example, did trigger a small increase in the tax rate throughout the system after it opened in 2012 but the total cost was offset by taking money from reserve funds, Nettleton said.

Plans call for the new library branch and city hall to open before then end of 2022.

For information on the alternative approval process, go here.

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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