New committee to explore Vancouver Budget Task Force recommendations

Click to play video: 'Vancouver releases budget task force report'
Vancouver releases budget task force report
The task force appointed to take a closer look at the City of Vancouver's books has released its report. The findings call for the city to find cost savings and efficiencies, but as Alissa Thibault reports, not all councillors are on the same page – Jan 18, 2024

Vancouver’s mayor and council have committed to exploring the 17 financial efficiency recommendations of external budget advisors, whose final report was presented at city hall on Tuesday.

The elected officials unanimously approved a motion to strike a new committee to examine the suggestions of Mayor Ken Sim’s Budget Task Force and report back with implementation options. The committee must prioritize transparency by bringing those options to public meetings and giving residents a chance to comment, the motion states.

“We want to honour your work,” Sim said to Budget Task Force chair Randy Pratt at the council meeting. “This is a generational thing. This will live beyond this council, I’m sure.”

Click to play video: 'Vancouver City Council urged to get back to basics'
Vancouver City Council urged to get back to basics

The Budget Task Force convened last April in the aftermath of a 10.7 per cent property tax increase that Sim described as neither sustainable nor “desirable.” It was charged with finding ways to maximize Vancouver’s spending efficiency.

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The volunteer panel found the growing municipality faces two “urgent challenges,” a “staggering” $500-million annual infrastructure funding deficit despite property tax increases and an ever-expanding portfolio of responsibilities that are traditionally handled by the provincial or federal governments.

“This expansion, driven by crises in areas such as housing access and affordability, opioid use, mental health, climate change, child care, and cost-of-living, has led to increased costs for the City’s residents and businesses, creating an unsustainable financial burden,” the task force said in its report.

Click to play video: 'Vancouver Park Board talks fee increases, possible Stanley Park access fee'
Vancouver Park Board talks fee increases, possible Stanley Park access fee

Councillors had the opportunity to grill Pratt on the task force’s recommendations on Tuesday.

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Those include that the city no longer approve property tax increases that outpace inflation, that it narrow its scope of responsibilities and that it build mandatory collaboration protocols with other levels of government, including First Nations. The task force also encouraged mayor and council to modernize its funding model to avoid “disproportionate contributions to provincial revenue” by Vancouver taxpayers and track how its revenue distribution from more senior governments compares with that of other large cities.

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As another cash-saving measure, it floated the idea of collaborating with other municipalities on the procurement of significant items and services, allowing private entities to own Vancouver’s “non-core assets,” and either selling, redeveloping or modifying any underutilized assets. According to the report, the current assessment value of the city’s Property Endowment Fund is about $5.7 billion, yet it contributed only $13 million in dividends to city operations last year as well as a cash yield of 0.2 per cent.

The task force took aim at municipal employment as well, stating that each day of reduced employee absences could save about $4.5 million a year. It recommended ensuring more holistic supports are in place for staff, as well as updated health and safety programs, and development performance targets and a reward system for employees.

Click to play video: 'Vancouver draft budget proposes 7.6 per cent hike'
Vancouver draft budget proposes 7.6 per cent hike


Vancouver Greens Coun. Adriane Carr expressed concerns about a recommendation to establish a policy outlining the City of Vancouver’s “core jurisdiction” and carefully manage spending beyond that, based on the panel’s statement that Vancouver has taken on matters of provincial and federal jurisdiction, including housing, child care, health care, climate change and more.

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“When we go to a senior government, ask for some funding for whatever one of those … and they don’t deliver, do you think that the city should just say, ‘Oh well, we’re not going to do anything, we’re not going to open a safe consumption site, we’re not going to do social housing?'” she asked Pratt.

Pratt said the task force’s position is not that such initiatives be cut and their beneficiaries “left in the lurch,” but that the city find ways to “navigate” its way out of that funding support from B.C. and Ottawa.

“Our task force has given you ideas that have been implemented in other cities and provinces,” Pratt said.

Click to play video: 'Vancouver Mayor Ken Sim on park board abolition'
Vancouver Mayor Ken Sim on park board abolition

OneCity Vancouver Coun. Christine Boyle also sought clarity on “core services.”

“A lot of the city’s investments in climate are related to, say, our transportation infrastructure. Would that, to you, qualify as a core service?” she asked.

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Pratt responded, “We felt programs that took property taxpayer and fee service payer dollars to climate mandates that we believed were outside of scope were misguided.”

Through the passing of bylaws, however, such as homebuilding requirements for developers, council can “effect change effectively at no cost to the city,” he added.

“We felt there could be a balance there,” Pratt said.

Click to play video: 'Park rangers stop volunteers from building tiny home in Vancouver'
Park rangers stop volunteers from building tiny home in Vancouver

In December, mayor and council approved a 2024 operating budget of $2.2 billion that included a property tax increase of 7.5 per cent. Three per cent of the increase was allocated to meet the needs of the Vancouver Police Department, and 3.5 per cent was allocated to other city services.

“We’re trying to provide a framework where this council can say no, instead of yes all the time,” Pratt said.

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Unless the city finds ways to save more money and make more money, “affordability both personally and for businesses will catch up to us, and we will lose businesses which employ residents,” he added.

— with files from Alissa Thibault

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