If Vancouver home owners thought the proposed, above-inflation 3.4 per cent increase in property tax was a bit steep (as found by a recent poll), then they will be even more shocked to learn that the tax hike approved in today’s council vote on the 2017 city budget is an even-higher 3.9 per cent.
The further 0.5 per cent increase was a last-minute amendment to the original 3.4 per cent proposal, added to the budget just last week, in order to raise a hoped-for extra $3.5 million to add to the City’s $4 million contingency fund. The money is slated to help the City find local solutions to the fentanyl crisis that is sweeping not only Vancouver, but also the whole province and country.
The total 3.9 per cent property tax hike, and the overall 2017 budget, was approved – although not unanimously – by City council December 13. This was despite strong objections from opposition councillors who insisted that the fentanyl epidemic was a provincial problem and should be dealt with and funded by each province’s provincial governments, rather than being “downloaded” to municipalities and ultimately charged to property tax payers.
“The crisis is now,” said NPA councillor George Affleck. “We need funds now, in December 2016, not in 2017. We have several mechanisms to pay for these kinds of issues, there’s usually ways that these funds are found, some magical way, often under the line item 'Timing Uncertain' – which is my favourite, the mysterious 'Timing Uncertain.'"
However, he added that the City and its taxpayers should not be on the hook for the fentanyl epidemic at all.
“Stop the downloading,” he said. “We should be putting the heat on the provincial and federal governments to deal with healthcare. The issue of the fentanyl crisis is beyond our scope of work.”
NPA councillor Melissa de Genova said that it was unreasonable to expect the “already overburdened” taxpayer to pay for the fentanyl crisis, and said, “I think we should have found a way to pay for the crisis, rather than asking Vancouver tax payers to pay twice.”
She added that there should have been a public consultation about the extra 0.5 per cent property tax increase, instead of pushing it through a council vote at the last minute.
Vision councillor Tim Stevenson responded that the immediacy of the crisis meant that there was no room for any kind of public opinion-gathering or referendum on whether an additional 0.5 per cent should be implemented to pay for the opioid crisis, and that he didn't think it was too onerous an additional amount to pay.
“It’s a few dollars a month,” he added. “I’m a renter, but if my rent goes up because of this, I’m happy to pay it.”
Mayor Gregor Robertson said that public safety and health was paramount. “The additional funding to ensure that we are doing everything we can to deal with the fentanyl crisis is essential and urgent. We need that additional support, especially for our fire and police services.”
The mayor added that Vancouver has one of Canada’s lowest property tax rates per capita, and that annual increases prior to the 2017 budget have been low, averaging two per cent per year.
The City’s 2017 capital and operating budget also includes a planned $80 million expenditure on new affordable rental and social housing, which was also approved in a 10-1 vote, with only Councillor Affleck in opposition.
“This capital investment is the largest housing investment in Vancouver’s history,” added Mayor Robertson.
Listen to REW.ca editor Joannah Connolly discuss the new property tax rise with NPA councillor Melissa de Genova on the Real Estate Therapist show on Roundhouse Radio 98.3FM, Saturday December 24, 9am-10am, also on roundhouseradio.com