Unfair tax burden on Lake Country residents, says mayor

Published on February 1, 2023 by David Wylie

Photo: Okanagan Journal
“Putting a 19.4% tax increase on us is pretty brutal,” says one man during a Lake Country budget townhall.

As the District of Lake Country considers increasing taxes by nearly 20%, Mayor Blair Ireland says local residents face an unfair tax burden.

Ireland answered the lion’s share of questions during the district’s townhall meeting Tuesday night in council chambers. He says the municipality needs to diversify its tax base.

“We are a bedroom community and the bulk of our taxation rate is on home owners,” says Ireland.

Particularly galling to those who spoke at Tuesday night’s townhall is that the Jim Bailey Industrial Area falls into Kelowna’s catchment, meaning all businesses in the area pay fees to the City of Kelowna even though they use Lake Country services.

Council chambers was full and more 70 people watched the townhall on Facebook live.

The meeting was held to discuss the draft 2023 financial plan, which included a proposed general tax increase of between 10-20%, mainly dependent on council’s choice of police funding. The district is facing a sharp spike in RCMP costs now that the municipality has crossed the 15,000-resident threshold and is required to pay 90% of policing cost, up from 70%.

On Tuesday, council gave first reading to a 2023 budget that would raise taxes by 17.05%.

A one per cent increase equals about a $20 annual increase for the average single-family home, which BC Assessment has valued at over $1 million in Lake Country.

Community doesn’t want cuts to services

The engagement on the district’s ‘Let’s Talk’ site has been record breaking, with 65 questions and comments.

But the district’s Chief Financial Officer and director of finance, Trevor James, says there doesn’t seem to be an appetite to cut services.

“This has been a challenging year and we do not take lightly the financial impact this budget could have on the citizens of Lake Country,” James told the crowd.

“Our current reading on the pulse of the community is obviously no one’s happy with a tax increase; however, there does not seem to be an overwhelming push to reduce service levels to avoid such increases. It’s ultimately council’s budget to approve.”

James says the biggest impact on this budget is the increased RCMP cost—still, it’s an increase the district has been planning for and has a policing reserve of $1.5 million.

The CFO also floated the idea that in the future, the RCMP will need a new facility.

Mayor Ireland says inflation is driving up costs across the board. For example, road maintenance has increased 120%, he says.

“Costs are spiralling out of control,” says the mayor.

“We’re hoping that levels off but it’s really expensive. Projections that we had 10-12 years ago just aren’t there anymore. Predictions are inflation won’t be as tough next year, but that’s kind of a wait and see.”

Ireland says the district has been proactively working to diversify the tax base by removing land from the ALR to create its own business park. He says district staff have also been incentivizing Main Street as a place to launch businesses and actively participating in economic development groups.

Breakdown of revenue and costs

Photo: District of Lake Country
Pie charts from the District of Lake Country show where revenue comes from and where it's spent.

Lake Country is wooing tourism, green entrepreneurs

Coun. Cara Reed, who represents Carr’s Landing, says the district is developing a tourism strategy, particularly around farmgate.

It’s also been attracting some interest from entrepreneurs in the clean technology sector, which includes recycling and reuse.

The budget is not yet finalized with second and third readings in February and adoption in March.

The district is accepting comments on its Let’s Talk page until Feb. 23.

Updated at 3 p.m. to include first reading.