Vancouver city council will vote on the proposed 2013 capital and operating budget next week, following a public meeting Tuesday evening on the plan.
Council heard from just six speakers on the combined budgets, which were presented in the same report for the first time this year.
Mike Jackson, the president of CUPE 1004, noted that in recent years, many more people were lined up to speak about the operating budget.
“I remember being here a couple of years ago, where there was certainly probably well over 100 people out in the audience and we went on for days and days,” he told council.
City staff presented a summary of the proposed $258 million 2013 capital budget Tuesday, as well as the $1.14 billion operating budget, which they are recommending council approve with a property tax increase of two percent.
Projects in the 2013 operating budget include the Vancouver Police Department’s pilot program to hire unarmed police officers, increased operational funding for supportive housing, and expanded service levels at new park board facilities including Hillcrest Centre and Trout Lake Community Centre.
The 2013 capital budget includes funding for 850 projects, including the city’s sewer separation program, design and construction of the Powell Street overpass, and rehabilitation of the Granville Bridge.
Paul Faoro, the president of CUPE Local 15, spoke in support of the budget, calling it “more user-friendly”.
“Usually when I come to these budget meetings, we’re a bit more cranked up,” he told council.
“But I honestly believe that this budget is one of the better laid-out budgets that I’ve seen in my 20 years of an activist within our union.”
Opposition councillors weren’t as happy with the estimates. Non-Partisan Association councillor George Affleck criticized what he called a lack of detail in the operating budget.
“I look at the capital budget…nice spreadsheet, lots of detail,” he said. “I’m just wondering why we can’t get a spreadsheet like this for our operating budget, that’s all of it together in one document?
“I think that this isn’t easier to read for people, I think it’s actually more difficult to figure out what is this costing taxpayers,” he added.
Donna Liberson, who was among the speakers to address council, also raised concerns with the level of detail in the budget document, calling the report “incomprehensible”.
“Essential information is missing: how this budget was created,” she charged. “This consultation process is meaningless in the absence of that information. A proper budget would truly reflect the needs of our city, and the costs would be honest and fair. This can only be achieved if annually, the budget for each department would start at zero, and then be built according to specific needs.”
Patrice Impey, the general manager of the financial services group for the City of Vancouver, told council that a very detailed budget wouldn’t provide departments with flexibility to respond to issues that are identified throughout the year.
“By budgeting at a slightly higher level, and giving managers the opportunity to adjust their activities to reprioritize, we can respond much more quickly to the priorities that come forward,” she said.
“Through the quarterly reporting, we get more visibility to that and then can adjust, so I think it allows us to be more flexible and more responsive, and respond more quickly to changes.”
The 177-page budget document also includes service metrics for the first time this year, intended to measure how the city delivers its services.
Council will vote on the budget report at its next council meeting on December 11.