I just read an article in the Kelowna Daily Courier about the Budget process in Lake Country and, as was pointed out by our CFO Stephen Banmen, the only thing right in it was the population figure: 12,000 actually 12,041 at the end of 2012, the fifth fastest growing municipality in BC. The rest of the information was completely incorrect. I am not sure where the reporter got those numbers and information but certainly not from the District.

It is unfortunate because there are many rumours about the budget in Lake Country and people just do not take the time to check whether what they read or hear is actually a fact or pure fantasy. The District does not have massive resources to constantly correct all the misinformation out in the public realm. We try to use the press and our social media network. However, even so, we only have one person who helps our communications efforts and she has a plate full. Even this blog may not be read by those whom it is sent to and so we understand the frustration of the public as we are frustrated too.

Let's begin with the title of the article: Lake Country faces 2.5% tax hike. The way I read it, and others too, is that Council has made a decision to increase taxes of 2.5% for 2014. This is not true. Council has not made any deliberation in that regard and it will not make any at least until the first week of February. We just do not have enough information at this point. For instance, we do not know how much revenue we will receive from new growth, which is new construction built in 2013 and assessed in 2014. We will not have this information until the end of January. In addition, we do not have our year-end final figures which will give us an understanding of our current budgetary situation. Again, this information will not be available until the end of January when the numbers will all be clear.

The article also mentions the cost of the proposed Bottom Wood Lake Project to be at $1.5 million when in fact the proposal is $1.3 million. Also, the details of how the project will look like are not fully available so the mention of the lampposts is not factual. Council had some discussions about the project and many ideas were mentioned, with the "dark skies" lampposts being one of them.

The article also mentions other municipalities and their budgets. Those municipalities are in the same boat as we are and cannot have a final budget until all the information is in. They use what is traditionally called a provisional budget. We do not use a provisional budget because such a budget was removed from legislation a long time ago and replaced by a 5-year financial plan. This means that usually those municipalities will have to review and amend their budgets closer to the legislated deadline of May 15, 2014. By then we will be ahead of the game as we will have a proposal for Council towards the end of January.

Now on to some of the facts. Council has approved a number of recommendations that we describe at "no tax increase". First of all there will be no increase in sewage and garbage fees: we have not had any increase in those two areas for many years as the associated accounts are and have been sustainable. There will be no water fee increase above what was adopted by Council last year. Notwithstanding this but also thanks to the sustainability of these accounts, Council has already approved a number of projects for a total of $1.4 million funded from water, sewer, and other reserves. The largest of these projects is the first phase of water meters at a total cost of $1 million. This is in keeping with the Water Master Plan approved last year.

So now what happens next? Staff will submit a prioritized list of possible "approvable" projects to Council at the February 4th Budget Meeting, which will begin at 4:30pm at the Municipal Hall. We will try to keep the budget contained and focused on our infrastructure needs. We will have to balance the needs of the community with statutory and contractual expenses that are going up in 2014. And finally, we will propose a budget that is sensitive to our economy but that can also be competitive and sustainable. A 1% tax increase equates to a total of $90,400 for the whole District. In real money this means $3.16 (three dollars and sixteen cents) for every $100,000 of assessed value. For instance, if your house has an assessment of $500,000 a 1% increase will be a total of $15.80 (fifteen dollars and eighty cents).

So more work needs to be done and certainly staff are not advocating for some of the increases that rumours portray both through letters received, the press and some forums. One thing is to speculate. Another is to stick to the facts.