Vancouver city council passes budget with seven percent property tax hike

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      NPA councillor Colleen Hardwick warned her colleagues that she couldn't imagine any scenario in which the City of Vancouver wouldn't hit a "financial wall".

      But that didn't stop a majority of her colleagues from approving the 2020 budget with a seven percent property-tax increase.

      Hardwick also objected to the staff recommendation for more than $500 million in new spending on the multi-year capital plan.

      “I find it incredible that we approve these kind of expenditures without putting on the brakes,” the NPA councillor said in a fiery speech in the council chamber.

      Mayor Kennedy Stewart, on the other hand, described spending increases as "critical investments in core front-line services like fire and rescue, police, libraries, community centres, homelessness and housing, while reducing or delaying spending in nonpriority areas".

      The seven percent property-tax increase translates to a $130 higher tax bill for the median residential owner and $225 for the median business property.

      This marks the first time in Vancouver history that city council has approved a $2-billion operating budget.

      Staff initially proposed an 8.2 percent increase.

      When several councillors publicly objected, bureaucrats came back with options for a seven, six, and five percent hike.

      The seven-percent scenario that was chosen initially included reducing the $1-million innovation fund and increasing parking revenue, as well as funding a city plan at reduced levels and removing funding for Oppenheimer Park.

      An amendment proposed by Green councillor Adriane Carr and passed by council reduced funding from $1 million to $500,000 for Oppenheimer Park, eliminated the innovation fund, cutt funding for the citywide plan from $5.5 million to $4 million, and reduced a reserve for snow and storm responses by $1 million.

      Council also voted for the Vancouver Police Department to have 20 percent less funding available to hire staff than under the 8.2-percent scenario. 

      COPE councillor Jean Swanson and OneCity councillor Christine Boyle were unable to convince their colleagues to scrap the hiring of 35 new VPD staff.

      NPA councillor Sarah Kirby-Yung tweeted that she couldn't support the overall cost increase because it was 3.45 times the consumer price index.

      Independent councillor Rebecca Bligh said in the council chamber that she recognized that tax rates in Vancouver are the lowest in the country, but she couldn't support the budget.

      "We also have to recognize as costs are going up globally, people, at the very least, have less money in their pockets," she said.

      Because council did not opt for the five percent scenario, there were no cuts to staff recommendations regarding climate change and culture.

      Council was already locked into $28.4 million in spending increases in 2020 due to costs related to salaries and benefits, a tax-funded sewer plan, insurance, hydro and gax, technology, and various grants, among other things.