The numbers are out and Stats Canada has released them. In the last five years Lake Country has grown in population a total of 21.9% and has now 11,708 people living "Life. The Okanagan Way". Lake Country is the fastest growing municipality in the Central Okanagan and the Central Okanagan is the fastest growing area in BC, second only to Greater Vancouver. 21.9% means an average of 4.38% annually, which is above the 3% average forecast in our Official Community Plan. Now this does not mean that we will continue to experience these growth rates. The current real estate market is very slow due to economic conditions, but when those conditions get better, and they will, we will experience more growth in those areas that Council has identified in our plans. So, investors beware! Lake Country is open for business and this is where the Central Okanagan is really growing. We will need more commercial services and vibrant community to provide what newcomers will need in terms of living our Okanagan experience fully. And growth also means gaining needed tax base to properly maintain our infrastructure which is becoming old. Our 20 year plan cannot be accomplished without new growth and other levels of government assistance. Water quality and conservation, as well as transportation, parks, sewage and other infrastructure do not come cheap and they are beginning to come to the end of their life span. When the municipal budget is up for consideration, Council will have to decide what to prioritize, what to delay and what to cut. Remember, municipalities only get 8 cents or less for every dollar we pay in taxes. The rest (a whopping 92%) goes to the federal and provincial governments.
And speaking about budget, Council will begin discussing it on February 16th. Staff are planning to provide an overview of the current budget and long term plans, incorporate the priorities that were approved by Council in December and come up with a formula that will provide the level of services needed in the community. The current economic times are tough and so Council will be aware of what can be afforded. A business systems review is underway and its final outcome will provide opportunities to scale back some services, save some money and minimize the impact of municipal operations to the taxpayers. We hope to have a final, clear direction from Council next Thursday. I have challenged staff to submit a 'no tax increase' budget, which can be a double edged sword: it could be a temporary relief to the taxpayers but it is also a detriment to future projects as reserves would need to be used in order to continue to make things work. Not an easy task but a very important one for the future of our community.
On another note, I read in the paper that the District is considering a marina on Wood Lake. I have never heard of this before, in fact I was surprised when I read it. I thought maybe I had missed something in the last couple of years. So I asked staff and they were as surprised. We also checked the books and there is no application for such a thing. Maybe the newspaper should ask the District first if this is true before writing something that is not accurate. If, in the past, there was a proposal it is now defunct as far as the District is concerned. Furthermore, deliberations about these things are, by law, made in the public realm and cannot be considered in a closed meeting. In fact, we rarely have closed meetings and only to discuss legal issues, land negotiations and personnel matters. Even in that case, most of the times the resolutions adopted in a closed meeting are brought forward to a public meeting for public knowledge. No secret on this side.
Finally, I wish to highlight the fact that the District of Lake Country has received a grant to do an Integrated Community Sustainability Plan. This is very important for us as our current plans are not fully inter connected. The Plan will include extensive public consultation and will represent a solid picture of where the community sees itself and wishes to be 30, 50, or even 100 years from now. If we don't do this, provincial and federal grants may be not be awarded as those levels of government now require municipalities to take an integrated approach to economic, social, environmental, and infrastructure issues. No big picture, no money. Staff are working on the terms of reference and we hope to begin the process in the spring.