UPDATE: Vancouver to vote on new property tax increase to combat opioid crisis

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WATCH: The City of Vancouver is considering additional property taxes to combat the opioid crisis. The half a percent bump would generate more than $3.5 million for a contingency fund. John Hua has more – Dec 7, 2016

UPDATE (Dec.13): The City of Vancouver is set to vote today on whether to hike property taxes to deal with the opioid crisis.

The City of Vancouver is considering raising property taxes yet again, this time to raise funds to fight the growing opioid crisis plaguing the region.

The city is proposing an increase of half a per cent, which is in addition to the 3.4 per cent increase already proposed to deal with the fentanyl crisis. The funds raised would especially help the front-line firefighters in the Downtown Eastside, who are already feeling the strain after responding to the thousands of overdoses this year alone.

“It’s not practical,” Vancouver Fire Chief John McKearney said about the current staffing situation. “I can’t just leave it to two units down there. We don’t know where this is going.”

READ MORE: Over 6,000 drug overdoses counted in Vancouver so far this year

The city has already proposed that the increase, which is expected to raise $3.5 million, would pay for another three-person medic unit to be based downtown, as well as better lighting at Oppenheimer Park and increased sanitation services, including needle pickup.

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The proposal has councilors picking sides, with some echoing citizens’ arguments that yet another tax hike, no matter how small, may be asking too much from middle-class households.

“We are in a crisis, we need to find funds, but why don’t we find it within our own budget?” NPA city councilor Melissa De Genova asked. “There’s a huge concern right now that the taxpayer just can’t bear any more [increases].”

While all sides agree that more funding needs to come from the province, Vision councilors are saying the city has a responsibility to act now.

“I find it pathetic that [councilors] would propose we would turn our backs on people who are dying from overdose, or that we cut it from the library, or we cut it from the police budget,” said Vision councilor Geoff Meggs. “Where are we going to cut it from?”

A poll conducted by the city as part of its 2016 budget service satisfaction report found that most of those surveyed would only be willing to pay a one per cent property tax increase.

Council will vote on the budget next week.

With files from John Hua

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