West Kelowna council unanimously approves plan to borrow millions and build new city hall | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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West Kelowna council unanimously approves plan to borrow millions and build new city hall

West Kelowna City Hall has been operating out of trailers in addition to the old Mt. Boucherie Community Centre since incorporation 13 years ago.
February 11, 2020 - 5:00 PM

West Kelowna council voted unanimously in favour today of a plan to borrow the $11 million needed to build a new city hall.

Chief administrative officer Paul Gipps went to council for approval to borrow the funds, explaining that a City Hall Reserve account that has been accumulating by $700,000 per year and should reach $7 million by 2022 when construction is anticipated. The total cost for the project is estimated somewhere in the area of $18 million.

While he said that the time was right for such an endeavour, Gipps also acknowledged concerns within the electorate that there was a lack of transparency in the way the plan was suddenly presented and poised to move ahead without consultation — especially given how divisive the issue was just a couple years ago.

READ MORE: Why West Kelowna chose this tack

That, however, was of less concern to every council member who spoke, all noting that the current state of municipal properties is abysmal.

West Kelowna Mayor Good Milsom started the conversation, noting that “proper city administrative offices are long overdue.”

“There will always be some members of our community who are opposed to change,” he said. “It’s incumbent on us to make decisions to move the community forward in positive ways, for the good of the overall community and the benefit of future generations.”

Milsom said he and council are mindful of the need to be transparent once funding is in place and there will be many opportunities to discuss what’s to come.

Coun. Doug Findlater also stressed that it is time to move ahead, particularly now that planning for so many of the city’s other infrastructure needs has been addressed.

The Rose Valley water treatment plant, for example, should be done by April 2022 and Glenrosa Road is soon to get an upgrade.

“The current arrangement is not sustainable,” he said. “The current arrangement, quite frankly, is ridiculous.”

City staff, he said, are spread out over five buildings across the city and “geography and proximity” makes it hard for teams to work and greater conversations to be had.

“If we wonder why sometimes the left hand isn’t talking to the right hand, that’s it,” Findlater said. “The current deployment of staff makes no sense. If you brought someone in from outside, they would say ‘what’s this, this is crazy.’”

Further emphasizing the unpleasant conditions facing city staffers, Coun. Carol Zanon talked about a time that staff were sick and nauseated from working in a portable where dead rats had been decomposing.

On another occasion, she came across a staffer who was crossing from one building to another on icy conditions and had slipped and fallen onto concrete.

“She was crying and I held her hand,” Zanon said, noting that she was worried the woman broke a bone and added “but why wouldn’t that break a spirit?”

“We have good employees and we’re not treating them as they should be treated,” she said, shortly before the vote was taken.

The City has grown to nearly 36,000 residents from 28,500 when West Kelowna incorporated in 2007. Municipal staffing has far outpaced that growth as well to 215 staff — plus nine more in this year’s budget — from 97 in 2007.

In 2016, the City spent an entire year on the subject of a new city hall, and when it went to a vote the plan failed by 27 votes.

West Kelowna Council has given the first three readings to a borrowing bylaw that involves pursuing an Assent Free loan process to design and build its first City Hall.

The City’s current debt is below five per cent of its annual revenue calculation, defined by the Province of British Columbia, which allows a municipality to borrow against its revenue. This is a tool, through the Local Government Act, that allows the City to apply to borrow up to the $11 million limit allowable under the Assent Free regulations. This tool enables the City to establish its first municipal hall without voter consultation.

The bylaw must receive provincial approval after which time Council will consider adoption.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Kathy Michaels or call 250-718-0428 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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