Vancouver’s proposed $1.2-billion operating budget for 2014 includes a property-tax increase of 1.9 percent.
The budget document released today (November 27) also outlines an average utility-rate increase of 2.7 percent and a 1-percent user-fee increase.
Vision Vancouver councillor Raymond Louie says the city has been able to improve services while keeping taxes at a moderate rate.
“This budget itself comes in at 1.9 [percent] but the number of hours we’re providing in our community centres has expanded significantly since 2009, and swimming pools and ice rinks and these types of services have all increased,” the chair of the city finance and service committee told the Straight by phone.
But Non-Partisan Association councillor George Affleck says he was hoping to see the property-tax increase kept under 1 percent. He argues that taxpayers have faced too much of a burden through cumulative tax increases of more than 15 percent over the last five years.
“I think taxpayers are taking on too much,” the NPA councillor said in a phone interview.
Louie countered that under an NPA council, Vancouver taxpayers saw an 18 percent increase over three years.
“I think George Affleck needs to tell taxpayers the full story of what he would cut in terms of services,” said Louie. “After doing extensive consultation with our public, we maintained the basic services for our citizens that they feel are important.”
Utilities and engineering public works make up 29 percent of the budget, and spending on police comprises 20 percent.
According to the budget document, savings of approximately $7.2 million were identified across the organization in order to mitigate the impact of fixed cost increases.
“These savings were identified by embracing new technology, enhancing workforce management, streamlining business processes, integrating services, sharing resources and strategic procurement of goods and services,” its reads.
About 30 full-time equivalent positions will be left unfilled next year.
Affleck said he wanted to see a more detailed breakdown of spending by department in the budget.
The more than 200-page document includes service metrics in a number of areas, a measure that Louie said allows the public to track improvements.
“It’s not just a measure of how much money, because I think that only tells half the story,” he said. “I think people are more interested to know that their services are being provided.”
Some examples of service metrics featured in the document include the establishment of 36 new community garden plots on city-owned land in 2013, an expansion of 10 kilometres in the city’s bike network, and the installation of 77 countdown timers at pedestrian crosswalks.
The proposed budget is set to go before Vancouver city council for consideration on December 10. Members of the public will also have an opportunity to ask city staff questions about the budget at a session at Vancouver City Hall from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. on December 2.
The 2014 capital budget, which will also go before council on December 10, outlines some of the major capital spending projects over the next year. Some of the main initiatives in the $285-million budget include completing construction on the Powell Street overpass, reconstruction of the Taylor Manor supportive-housing project, and construction work on the new Strathcona library.
Both the operating and capital budgets can be viewed on the City of Vancouver’s website.