How can a City help with economic recovery?
By Derek Edstrom | Jul 21, 2021
As the COVID-19 health crisis unfolded in 2020, all levels of government responded. Headlines featured new acronyms like CERB and CESB as new support programs launched for individuals and organizations negatively impacted by the pandemic. The responses had to be within the different, but sometimes overlapping, areas of responsibilities of each level of government. So, what exactly can municipalities do to support their residents and broader community in time like these?
In the short term the City of Kelowna committed to maintaining the essential services expected by residents while keeping more money in residents’ pockets through a lower tax rate demand for 2020 and a delayed property tax payment penalty deadline. While the proposed tax rate increase was cut by more than half, we were able to invest in important projects that will make a difference for residents. We are a growing city and the investments made in capital projects which include the Integrated Water project, our annual road resurfacing program and upgrades to several parks are also meaningful economic drivers that provide employment.
We took a leadership role to support businesses by accelerating the process for restaurants to install patios in all of our town centres, closing a section of Bernard Avenue to traffic over the summer to allow for the expansion of business patios and the increased access for pedestrians and cyclists and establishing loading zones for food delivery drivers. This leadership has now transformed into the ongoing ‘Meet Me on Bernard’ initiative through collaboration with the Downtown Kelowna Association and Tourism Kelowna.
At a regional level we came together with five other organizations as part of the Regional Economic Recovery Task Force to identify common needs, advocate for stimulus program funding and collaborate on initiatives to help the Central Okanagan to bounce back from the economic disruption of the pandemic.
Our second progress report on Council Priorities 2019-2022 highlights the progress we made on four specific results related to the City’s role in economic resilience. A key aspect of the approach is to clarify what is within our control as a municipal government to ensure our actions translate into measurable results.
The pandemic may have changed the pace, but not the foundation of our long-term plan to support economic growth in the city and region.
We have been actively growing a downtown centre with proactive work to bring Interior Health, Accelerate Okanagan/Innovation Centre and UBC Okanagan downtown within three blocks of each other. This coming together of industry, academia and government is a catalyst for economic growth and innovation as bright, innovative and passionate people from different organizations collide and bring novel solutions to challenges. To learn more about support for the tech sector in Kelowna, I invite you to read the related section in the progress report.
Another way the City will act as a catalyst to support bright and diverse thinkers to help solve community challenges is through the recently launched Unsolicited Proposals program. The program provides a structured way to connect and work with people and organizations who care about our community to offer solutions that will deliver real value and public benefit. It will help us highlight city challenges and allows for a consistent and efficient way to work with partners.
These new approaches to partnerships and the role of the City as a convener is part of our Imagine Kelowna community vision for building an inclusive, prosperous and sustainable city and I am excited to help bring this vision to life.