In a surprise move, Vancouver city council passed its 2023 budget Tuesday night, just hours after the mayor announced city hall was considering a nearly 11 per cent property tax.
The 10.7 per cent tax hike — up from an initially proposed 9.7 per cent — was approved in a nearly unanimous budget vote that will see spending increase for the fire department, police and city engineering services.
Mayor Ken Sim conceded the hefty increase “sucks,” and pinned the blame on what he said was years of underfunding, leaving core city services badly in need of new investments.
“These are not normal times. Property tax increases of this magnitude cannot and will not become the norm as we move forward,” Sim said. “Our team will continue to look for ways to achieve cost savings.”
Among the approved new core service funding was just over $4 million to hire 33 new firefighters, a suite of budget asks from the Vancouver Police Department boosting its budget over $400 million this year, $1.8 million for snow readiness, $600,000 to increase “horticulture service levels,” and $300,000 for road maintenance.
But the budget also included some big ticket non-core service measures that aren’t funded in any other Metro Vancouver municipality.
That includes $2.8 million for Vancouver Coastal Health to hire mental health nurses, one of Sim’s key campaign promises.
Port Coquitlam Mayor Brad West contrasted Vancouver’s situation to his own city, where council managed to hold the property tax hike to 3.38 per cent year.
Port Coquitlam council, he said, assessed the budget line by line with a focus of trimming all unnecessary spending, while other cities have tried to solve problems that should be the responsibility of the provincial and federal governments.
“We’ve been elected to Port Coquitlam city council, not the United Nations General Assembly,” West said.
“So we stay very focused on what the core responsibilities of the municipality are on — on roads, on parks, on snow removal, on cleanliness.”
Municipal tax money has been used in Vancouver in efforts to address range of social problems, including tackling the toxic drug crisis and building and running social housing.
The BC NDP government pledged a one-time $1 billion fund this year to help municipalities with infrastructure, but that money will only go to capital projects, and won’t cover operating costs.
“Such as community amenities. We recognize that there are also aging infrastructure as well,” Municipal Affiars Minister Anne Kang said.
The newly-approved budget is $29 million higher than the previous proposal, with amendments made during Tuesday’s public hearing.
Property taxes will be around $326 more for a single-family home and business property owners could pay around $549 more in 2023.
The average condo owner will now pay around $124 more, based on the assessed value of the property starting this year.
— with files from Kareem Gouda