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Kelowna's at a crossroads, according to the mayor

Kelowna is at a pivotal point in its history.

"The city has incredible potential," said Mayor Tom Dyas in his state-of-the-city address at Kelowna Chamber of Commerce lunch Thursday at the Coast Capri Hotel.

"But it also has pressing priorities."

It was noted that Dyas called them priorities, not problems.

Kelowna's priorities/problems have been well documented in the news and make up city council's 2024 to-do list -- crime and safety, affordable housing, transportation, homelessness, agriculture and climate change.

</who>Tom Dyas was elected mayor of Kelowna in October 2022.

While problems tend to get the most public attention, Kelowna overall is a safe and thriving city.

And, many of the facts Dyas threw around at the lunch support that -- a record-high, $1.76 billion worth of building permits issued in 2023, 24% increase in the number of licenced businesses in the city, two million overnight tourists a year and construction activity up 26% in 2023 compared to 2022.

"There's an exciting future for our world-class city," he said.

</who>At the luncheon, from left, Kelowna Coun. Maxine DeHart, Coun. Loyal Wooldridge, Mayor Tom Dyas, Kelowna Chamber of Commerce chair Dan Price, incoming chamber chair Maryse Harvey and Coun. Luke Stack.

But, citizens also want the challenges addressed.

"We've heard you loud and clear and we've made crime and safety our No. 1 priority," Dyas told the sold-out crowd.

Dyas formed the Mayor's Task Force on Crime Reduction and the city has hired 32 more RCMP and bylaw enforcement officers and firefighters.

The task force will make recommendations of more actions that can be taken to city council in the spring.

In the meantime, Dyas said gains were made in 2023 with a 43% reduction in business break-ins and bike thefts down 40%.

"But, we know we have more work to do," he said.

Part of that is a future that includes a drug-use ban in all city parks, beaches, sports fields, playgrounds and bus stops, a complex care and support plan for homeless people and those with mental health issues and addictions and harsher penalties for repeat violent and property crime offenders.

Despite crime and safety being priority No. 1, Dyas said Kelowna has a bright future and we have the opportunity to shape it all together.

"The city is ready for growth and the future," he said.

"We have a strong and diversified economy and population. We are getting better every day."

The city has a vision and a plan and the ability to pay for it with a combination of taxes and fees collected and contributions from the provincial and federal governments.

"We have a great opportunity and responsibility to make growth sustainable," stressed Dyas.

</who>It was a sell-out crowd for Mayor Tom Dyas' state-of-the-city address Thursday in the ballroom of the Coast Capri Hotel.

And Kelowna is growing.

Dyas also outlined how the city is dealing with 2024's five other priorities.

To make up the deficit of 5,000 affordable homes in Kelowna, the city is working on a multi-pronged approach to ensure about 2,600 homes a year get built in the city, ranging from tax incentives and streamlined permitting for developers, having subsidized housing built on city land and accessing the province's Housing Accelerator Fund.

Dyas said homelessness is a complex issue and the city is doing its best to address it.

In fact, when Dyas was at the Union of BC Municipalities Housing Summit in Vancouver earlier this week, he again asked the province for help in homeless encampment response, providing more shelter space, supportive housing, affordable housing and complex care beds and programs for those experiencing homelessness, mental health issues and addiction.

On the transportation front, Kelowna is getting more roads, bike lanes and transit to deal with bottlenecks.

The city supports the sustainability to the agricultural sector, especially the wine and fruit industries hard hit by the recent cold snap and wildfires.

The city's climate action plan has provisions for tree protection, net-zero construction and energy retrofits for homes.

Going forward, the city has plans for 330 infrastructure projects worth $2 billion over the next decade with a quarter of the cost covered by development cost charges.

"We're not letting our foot off the gas," summed up the mayor.

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