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Streamlining Kelowna’s budget process may stifle debate

Kelowna Coun. Ryan Donn wants more information in order to have more informed debate come budget time.
November 20, 2018 - 3:02 PM

KELOWNA - Kelowna Coun. Ryan Donn is concerned a new format being put in place for December’s budget debate may actually make informed discussion more difficult.

Donn and the rest of Kelowna city council sat through a two-hour presentation yesterday, Nov. 19, on how the budget system works and changes being made this year.

Historically, councillors receive a massive report with all the recommended additions and deletions to next year’s budget – information they need to set the tax rate.

If city manager Doug Gilchrist believes something is essential, it’s given a Priority 1 ranking. Less important items are listed as Priority 2 and past councils have often argued for some of those to be included. Each item, no matter what its priority, always carried a brief description and explanation of why it’s important.

This year, all the capital items will simply be listed together, with no details given. Priority 2 operational items will be provided with some details.

Donn questioned that change during the meeting but got no support from other councillors, who liked the idea of a list.

“Often, in order to have a conversation with council, you need the full reason and logic behind the request versus asking for it based on five words,” Donn told “If you want to go through the budget process fully, then we should be looking into what those Priority 2s are. Do we remove anything from the budget that’s Priority 1 or do we disagree and say that Priority 2s should be funded based on community feedback.”

Gilchrist told council that, in the past, only some of the Priority 2 items were included in the provisional budget so council didn’t get the full picture of what really should be done each year, if there was enough money.

The city has adopted a 10 Year Capital Plan that calls for $1.1 billion in spending but has a $463 million funding shortfall. By listing all the items that “should” be done each year, it highlights that deficit.

Gilchrist told Donn that if he wanted more detail, he could look it up in the capital plan and other councillors were OK with that.

But the capital plan is a 139-page document that includes a 110-page appendix listing each potential capital project with dollar figures attached for each year. There is no detailed explanation of the rationale for each project.

Donn doesn’t want to criticize Gilchrist’s approach because council has called for a streamlining of the information they have to process. They get agenda packages each Thursday that can run to hundreds of pages.

“There’s going to be a bit of dance over the next year-and-a-half or two years with a new city manager and a fresh council to go: how much information does council need to make a decision?” Donn said.

On the other hand, he wants more information provided to council on budget items.

Gilchrist said councillors can refer to the 10 Year Capital Plan on their iPads or in hard copy.

“We will have all the cost centre managers there to answer any questions they might have about any particular individual project,” Gilchrist told today.

He didn’t have a tally of the number of Priority 2 items but said they run to the “tens, not the hundreds.” He declined to include details as a separate handout.

Kelowna city council will hold its provisional budget debate on Dec. 13.

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