A billion dollars is a lot of money.
Today (December 18), Vancouver city council approved next year’s budget, which includes expenditures approaching this amount—$959,849,000 to be exact.
But, according to Non-Partisan Association councillor Suzanne Anton, the way the Vision Vancouver majority on council divvied up this close to a billion dollars wasn’t in the manner many Vancouverites wanted.
Starting next year, Anton told reporters, citizens who use libraries will notice that they have shorter hours. Residents who go to community centres will find their opening hours reduced as well. Parks will be maintained less, and more garbage will go uncollected.
For those residents who hoped that Mayor Gregor Robertson and his caucus would save the Bloedel Conservatory and the children’s petting zoo at Stanley Park from the chopping block, they’ve just been handed a big letdown.
Robertson stated during the special meeting this morning that council could not lift a finger to maintain these facilities.
A furious Paul Faoro, president of Local 15 of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, which represents inside city workers, slammed the Vision-dominated council in a media scrum after the meeting.
“This council has just endorsed the privatization of the farmyard,” Faoro rapid-fired. “This council has just endorsed the privatization of the conservatory. This council has just endorsed the cutting of library hours. This council has just endorsed the cutting of community-centre hours across our city. This council has just endorsed cuts to services that the public demand, like inspection services.”
City employees are not going to be spared by the budget cuts.
According to Faoro, the equivalent of 177 full-time positions will have to be cut, meaning staff are facing layoffs.
“Our union and the rest of the unions have not yet been told the specifics of those, which just goes to our ongoing complaint that there has not been proper consultation,” Faoro said of the coming job cuts.
At the meeting, Coalition of Progressive Electors councillor Ellen Woodsworth proposed a three-percent property tax increase for both residential and business ratepayers.
Woodsworth explained that this will save city services from getting slashed, and she was applauded by people watching from the gallery for making this suggestion.
However, her motion was voted down by the Vision and NPA councillors.
Vision councillor Raymond Louie, chair of the city services and budgets committee, instead proposed a 2.26-percent property tax hike.
Under the current tax-shift policy, business will have to pay only a minimal tax increase for their properties and the bulk of the increase will be transferred to residents.
This means that next year residential property taxpayers will have to shoulder a 4.26-percent tax increase. In a media scrum, Robertson explained that with the tax shift businesses will pay a tax increase of just over 0.2 percent.
Other measures council approved in the meeting:
”¢ Exempt staff will give up one percent of their four-percent salary increase for 2010, saving the city $650,000.
”¢ Increased funding of $153,000 for the retention of the Riley Park library branch.
”¢ Increased funding of $192,000 to Vancouver Public Library branches serving vulnerable populations.
”¢ Increased funding of $419,000 to maintain current operating hours at the library’s central branch.
”¢ $500,000 to fund the city’s emergency homeless shelter program on an ongoing basis.