Vancouver’s council has voted for a seven per cent property tax hike for next year, down from the 8.2 per cent first proposed.
The increase is still more than double the city’s 10-year average tax increase.
The budget approved on Tuesday came after weeks of back-and-forth between staff and council.
Last month, staff presented a draft operating budget of $1.6 billion, including the city’s largest property tax hike in at least 20 years. But after a public outcry, council told staff to suggest trimmed budgets with seven, six and five per cent tax hikes. Staff provided those scenarios last week, including options to reduce or delay spending on climate change preparation, city-wide planning, and hiring police and firefighters, among other trims.
In the end, the 2020 budget approved by council Tuesday picked and chose among staff options, and did not cut the planned hiring of additional police officers and firefighters. The proposal was introduced by council’s longest-serving member, Green Coun. Adriane Carr, with voting on possible reductions held one by one.
The new budget also includes $20.7 million for new spending on “council priorities,” down from $23.8 million in the first draft. That includes $4.1 million to address the housing crisis and $6.8 million to accelerate action on climate change, both items unchanged. The “council priorities” section was approved with the support of Mayor Kennedy Stewart, Greens Carr, Pete Fry and Michael Wiebe, OneCity Coun. Christine Boyle and COPE Coun. Jean Swanson. The NPA’s Lisa Dominato, Colleen Hardwick, and Sarah Kirby-Yung voted against that section, along with independent Rebecca Bligh, who recently quit the NPA. Dominato, Hardwick, Kirby-Yung and Bligh also voted against many other parts of the budget.
Staff warned six months ago of a large tax increase after the new mayor and council passed motions at more than twice the rate of their predecessors, as a CBC analysis showed.
On Tuesday, Boyle said last month’s draft budget “wasn’t a big surprise” to her. “We passed all these motions, and then they showed up in the budget. That’s how it works,” Boyle said. “Our tax increase is something we should be weighing all year as we make decisions on what we’re passing.”
“When we brought the budget outlook in July, we were hoping for a more substantive conversation about what council was expecting and hoping for out of the process, and what the expectations were regarding the tax rate,” city manager Sadhu Johnston said Tuesday.
As a result, wording in the new budget directs staff to work with council on “multiple budget workshops” for the 2021 budget.
There were differences on the council floor Thursday about where to trim.
Swanson wanted to cut the $3.75 million earmarked for hiring more police officers, proposing to use that money for things such as supportive housing. Most of the rest of council opposed that, including De Genova and Kirby-Yung, both of whom are married to Vancouver police officers. De Genova said she’d been advised by the city’s legal department that because the amendment involved new police resources, she could vote on it without being in conflict.
Kirby-Yung proposed reducing funding for the city-wide planning process from $5.5 million to $2.75 million. The amendment failed. Councillors who supported keeping the funding emphasized the need to consult people who have historically been under-represented in civic planning.