Balancing Short-term Needs and Long-term Vision Through a Crisis
By Doug Gilchrist | Mar 16, 2021
Last year I wrote, “The importance of strategic planning and management at the local government level is paramount and never more apparent than in a crisis.” As COVID-19 unfolded Kelowna was grappling with rapid change and a lot of uncertainty about how the next year would unfold.
We took action quickly to support the community by reducing the property tax rate for 2020, deferring the late penalty fee for property tax payments, cancelling or adjusting programs to meet health measures, and expanded patios and increased access for pedestrians and cyclists along a section of Bernard Ave. This was accomplished while setting up our staff to work at home and often dramatically altering work conditions for staff who needed to be on site. Our first priority was to ensure staff were safe so they could continue to provide essential services that our community relies on such as clean drinking water and safe streets.
In a crisis, decision-making is often immediate, short-term and responsive. Having strong plans and strategies helps shift our perspective back to being longer-term and proactive so we don’t lose sight of the other things that are important. These are the goals in our Imagine Kelowna community vision; long-term plans that guide land-use, infrastructure investments, community safety, social issues, and culture; and encompass several of our Council’s Priorities for their 2019 – 2022 term.
Our second progress report on Council Priorities 2019-2022 highlights the significant progress we made while managing through the health crisis and will inform our planning through the recovery. It is also a level of transparent public reporting that I think our community wants and deserves.
The practice of planning and using data to assess our progress has served us well. It allows Council and the administration to make deliberate trade-off decisions knowing that our financial and people resources are limited. For example, as we considered the 2021 budget , Council approved additional investment towards public safety and sustainability – two things our community has told us they place in high regard. The added investment in environmental sustainability was a key target because we determined that we were not doing enough to reach our goals, so we presented Council with opportunities for additional investment towards meaningful action.
The Council Priorities progress report is a core component of our commitment to transparency and accountability, alongside our financial reporting practices and policies that guide decisions. I’m pleased that this progress report demonstrates the strong fundamentals we have in place that I hope builds credibility and trust with our residents. My commitment is to continue to increase our transparency as an organization by gradually increasing our reporting on more of our services so the community can better assess the value they receive for their municipal taxes.
I’m optimistic that Kelowna is well-positioned to make a strong recovery from the fallouts of the COVID-19 health crisis and that we truly have an opportunity to create a city of the future as envisioned in Imagine Kelowna.