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Vancouver passes budget with 7% property tax hike after divisive meeting

Vancouver council questioned after passing budget
There are many questions about the priorities of the City of Vancouver, after council passed the budget with a 7 per cent hike in property taxes. Aaron McArthur reports.

Vancouver city council has approved a property tax hike that is nearly double the 10-year average.

The 2020 budget was passed in a lengthy meeting that saw councillors split the document into pieces and vote segment by segment.

READ MORE: Vancouver councillors send budget with 8.2% tax hike back to the drawing board

In the end, they approved a seven per cent tax increase, down from the initially proposed 8.2 per cent hike, but still much higher than many councillors wanted to see.

Controversial Vancouver city budget under the microscope
Controversial Vancouver city budget under the microscope

The city’s four Non-Partisan Association (NPA) councillors and former NPA Coun. Rebecca Bligh pushed against the increase, arguing a budget increase so high above the rate of inflation was too much.

“I’m just worried about where this is going,” said the NPA’s Sarah Kirby-Yung.

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READ MORE: City of Vancouver proposes 9.3% hike in fees, property tax for 2020

“Is it going to be nine per cent? Is it going to be 10, or 11? And it’s just beyond people’s ability to pay.”

“I’m pretty sure that when people voted us in last time, they were not expecting a seven per cent increase in property taxes,” added NPA Coun. Colleen Hardwick.

The drawn-out debate included dozens of amendments, including one by COPE Coun. Jean Swanson, who suggested the city reduce the budget by cancelling new police hires.

That amendment failed, and Vancouver will go ahead with funding for 25 new police officers and 10 civilian police employees along with 30 new firefighters, a move that drew online support from police Chief Adam Palmer.

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Green councillors Pete Fry and Adriane Carr led the charge pushing for the original budget proposal, which envisioned $1.6 billion in total spending, $111 million of it new, saying continued support for public services and climate change initiatives were too important to ease up on.

Fry took to social media after the vote to defend the budget.

“This 2020 Budget sees a lot of catch-up after years of chronic underfunding into core infrastructure: including things like watermains, streets, vehicles, police, and fire,” said Fry.

Vancouver mayor calls for 400% increase to councillors’ discretionary budget
Vancouver mayor calls for 400% increase to councillors’ discretionary budget

Fry also argued property taxes on the median detached Vancouver home were comparable to the city’s neighbouring municipalities.

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The amended budget will keep close to $7 million in funding for Vancouver’s initiatives to deal with the climate change emergency declared earlier this year, along with about $4 million for affordable housing.

READ MORE: Vancouver property taxes could rise up to 10% to cover recent council motions, staff say

Councillors shaved off about $9 million in operating costs, including cuts to funding to deal with the Oppenheimer Park homeless camp and the upcoming city-wide plan.

Tuesday’s vote came after councillors previously rejected the initially proposed 8.2 per cent tax hike and asked staff to return with scenarios to cut the increase to five, six and seven per cent.

The 2020 tax hike is independent from an additional 9.5 per cent hike on utility fees.