Vancouver property taxes could rise up to 10% to cover recent council motions: staff

Property taxes in Vancouver could go up as much as 10 per cent in order to cover a flurry of recent council motions. The Canadian Press file

Property taxes in Vancouver could rise by as much as 10 per cent next year in order to pay for a wealth of recent motions approved by city council, according to a preliminary budget report.

Staff’s 2020-2024 Budget Outlook, which was approved by council on Wednesday with amendments, suggests those motions have added an additional pressure of $21 million to $24 million for 2020 alone.

Those numbers, which staff say are high level estimates, would require a tax increase of at least six to seven per cent annually — higher than last year’s projected annual increase of 4.9 per cent.

The current council’s first budget since their election, which was approved in December 2018, lowered the increase to 4.5 per cent for 2019.

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Staff point to a few key council initiatives for the projected expense pressure, including efforts to confront climate change and a proposed city plan, which is still being debated.

Other initiatives that aren’t individually mentioned in the report account for a combined $7 million to $8 million alone in projected expenses for 2020.

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The version of the report approved by council ultimately did not include any percentages, but did mention a tax increase.

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Coun. Rebecca Bligh said Wednesday the outlook suggests council may be sending staff too many messages and directives at once.

“We’ve had a flurry of motions, and I do worry they’re sending staff in many different directions, all of which cost taxpayer dollars to staff, plan for, come back with a report, actions,” she said.

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“I have yet to see where we have actually said, ‘Stop doing this and start doing that.'”

Bligh suggested it’s been difficult to steer city hall toward this council’s priorities, which are centered around climate change and livability, and could be at odds with those of the previous council.

“I can imagine they’re sitting there looking at all of the different directions they’ve gotten over the past two years and saying, ‘OK, where do we go from here?'” Bligh said.

The climate change initiatives — which look to prepare the city for the continued threats posed by warming temperatures and rising sea levels — stem from a motion from Coun. Christine Boyle in January that saw council vote to declare a climate emergency.

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Boyle said Wednesday that public consultation will follow council’s approval of the budget outlook, where taxpayers will be asked how they feel about covering the additional costs.

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“We know it will cost extra to tackle climate change, and what we’re seeing in other jurisdictions already hit by these impacts is it costs even more not to respond,” she said.

“I hope one of the questions will be whether we should pay an extra one-per-cent tax increase to boldly and adequately address the climate crisis we know is here. The Vancouverites I hear from the most have a strong commitment to that and understand it won’t happen for free.”

Boyle added staff is working to secure federal and provincial funding to cover a majority of those costs, so the expense shouldered by the city could go down.

City council has also voted to ask fossil fuel companies to cover at least some costs associated with climate change.

In a statement, the city’s chief financial officer Patrice Impey said the budget outlook process is an early step towards delivering a draft budget in the fall, which will be written with the council’s priorities in mind.

“As we do each year, we will look to balance the need to maintain and improve services, facilities and infrastructure — along with accommodating requests for new initiatives including new council motions — with acceptable levels of taxation, utility rates, and fees,” Impey said.

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Public consultation for the city budget will begin in August.

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