Vancouver approves 2014 operating and capital budgets

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Vancouver city council approved the 2014  operating budget today, which will come with a 1.9 percent property-tax increase.

Just before councillors voted on the more than 200-page capital and operating budget, Non-Partisan Association councillor Elizabeth Ball proposed an amendment to restore cultural grants to 2009 levels. She suggested a $300,000 allocation from any surplus funding at the end of year to bring the amount of grants to $8.3 million.

“A small amount of money like this can make a major difference,” said Ball. “Three hundred thousand spread over the theatre community would be like a blood transfusion, and it’s extraordinarily important.”

Vision Vancouver councillors voted against the motion, with Coun. Heather Deal noting Vancouver already has the highest per-capita cultural grant funding among Canadian municipalities.

“The actual combination of our [theatre] rental grants and our cultural grants have been going up, and in 2014...they’ll be $10.8 million, up from $10.6 million in 2009,” said Deal. “We are finding ways to support the arts [with] ongoing operating support, and those theatre grants are crucial to that.”

Other councillors criticized elements of the $1.2-billion budget before it was approved, including Green councillor Adriane Carr, who described the document as having “too many words, not enough numbers”.

“Sometimes when we laud our efficiency…we could be overlooking some other components, such as the potential impact of efficiency on staff itself,” said Carr.

NPA councillor George Affleck asserted that “volume does not equal great content”.

“I think that budgets should be based on mainly spreadsheets,” he said. “There is a significant lack of spreadsheets in my mind—simple departmental budgets with detailed line items. This is the kind of line item that you should expect at every level of government, of non-profit, of business. How can we make our decisions here today without knowing the detail?”

But Mayor Gregor Robertson described the service metrics outlined in the budget document as “world class”.

“I think we’ve now set the bar very high in having hundreds of metrics by which taxpayers can measure the impact of their dollars and ensure that services the city delivers meet a test,” he said. “And based on the metrics that we’re seeing this year, we’ve seen strong improvements right across the board.”

Robertson also noted that last week, just five members of the public came to council to speak to the budget.

“It has been in the hundreds in the past when tax increases were dramatically higher under former administrations, and when there was a lot of contentious issues around public services,” he said. “We’re not seeing that. I think we’re seeing a lot of support and acceptance.”

Vision Vancouver councillor Raymond Louie added that the format of the budget was based on advice from an expert report to make the document more comprehensible.

“So what we have embedded in this document are yes, a lot of words,” he said. “But those words have meaning. They describe what we do as a city. There are bar graphs, there are pie charts, there are trend lines, there are spreadsheets. And they aren’t few, but they are many.”

All the budget recommendations were approved, with Ball, Carr, and Affleck voting against the operating budget recommendations, and Affleck voting against the capital budget recommendations..

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