Vancouver council has passed a budget that provides greater funding than originally proposed for the police and fire departments, climate action and other social programs — and with it came a higher property tax bill than originally proposed.
Despite repeated motions in the last two years to try and keep the average property tax increase at five per cent or below, the $1.7 billion budget passed has an increase of 6.3 per cent.
That works out to $72 for the average detached condo in the city or $178 for the average home, not including parts of the property tax bill not under municipal control.
"The stark reality is we are just going ka-ching, ka-ching, ka-ching, ka-ching, and taking it not out of the one per cent, but of the middle-class people that are trying to afford to continue living in this city," said councillor Colleen Hardwick at one point.
"I'm choked as I continue to see us add more and more. It was bad enough that we were looking at five per cent."
Funds programs previously supported
But as councillor Christine Boyle pointed out, ultimately they approved funding a wide variety of programs and strategies they had committed to in previous years.
"This budget is making investments that follow through on priorities that this council has supported — in many cases unanimously — throughout the year, and don't mean anything unless we actually fund them," she said.
Some of those increases that were not originally included in the draft budget included an extra $3.1 million to Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services for more firefighters, $670,000 for enhanced street cleaning, $1.2 million to fund the newly created Auditor General's office, and additional funding to the Vancouver Police Department, allowing them to fill current vacancies and fund recent salary arbitration decisions.
"The cost drivers we face are public safety funding requests, and the escalation costs of the climate emergency," said Boyle.
"I don't think it would be responsible for us to punt those down the road."
6-5 political split
Most parts of the budget passed along the same 6-5 lines as the previous two budgets, with Mayor Kennedy Stewart, Boyle, the three Green Party councillors and COPE councillor Jean Swanson in favour, and the five councillors originally elected under the NPA banner — Hardwick, Rebecca Bligh, Melissa De Genova, Lisa Dominato and Sarah Kirby-Yung — in opposition.
Among the more contentious parts of the debate was an amendment by Adriane Carr that introduced an extra $9 million per year in taxation to fund a variety of the city's climate emergency goals.
It includes money for more electric vehicle infrastructure, planting trees, and improving active transportation infrastructure, and comes two months after council narrowly voted against funding similar measures through a new parking permit system.
Councillor Rebecca Bligh said she supported the initiatives, but not the way it had come forward on the day of the vote, alleging only some members of council had been warned.
"It's not popular not to support this, we're likely to be called out on Twitter for not supporting this, and being climate [change] deniers," she said.
"The people who are going to vote for this, were engaged ahead of this meeting, and the people that likely are not going to vote for this, were not engaged at all."
But councillor Pete Fry said time was of the essence for the city to start raising more money for its climate strategies.
"This has been a tough budget, nobody wants to raise taxes, nobody wants to sit around and throw money around," he said.
"As we've seen over this summer with the heat dome, and this fall with the flooding in Abbotsford, we can't ignore this any longer, and we do have to be way more assertive and aggressive in our response to climate emergency and climate resiliency."