District of North Vancouver plans to pump provincial funds into building its section of 35-km Spirit Trail
The immediate effect of a new billion-dollar fund for B.C. municipalities was seen in the District of North Vancouver on Monday evening.
Council voted to move ahead with a revamped 2023 budget that included $10 million in funding for its portion of the Spirit Trail, a long-discussed path from one end of the North Shore to the other.
A previous draft version of the budget had indefinitely deferred the trail, but staff said the combination of feedback from the public and the district receiving $10.2 million from the province's Growing Communities Fund allowed them to come up with an alternative proposal that councillors unanimously agreed on.
"Cash that we weren't expecting is hugely appreciated, and will go a long way to fund some of these really important projects," said Coun. Jordan Back.
The Spirit Trail was announced in 2011 and was conceived as a 35-kilometre greenway from Horseshoe Bay to Deep Cove — but so far only the City of North Vancouver has completed its portion, and the district has yet to make any progress.
Municipalities across B.C. have been deciding how to use their portion of the Growing Communities Fund while also considering their 2023 budgets. North Vancouver–Seymour MLA Susie Chant attended the council committee meeting on Monday, and confirmed with councillors the high degree of flexibility they had in using the money.
"There are no real specifics coming down," she said.
"It's there, your councils know what they need, please use it, do what you need to do with it, and hopefully some day we'll get to do it again."
Fields funded, but not bike lanes
The district has proposed raising property taxes for this year from 4.5 per cent to 5.25 per cent to take into account the Spirit Trail construction as well as funding six artificial turf fields.
While the budget will still be need to be passed later this month, the decision is effectively a reversal of a previous council edict to keep property tax increases lower.
Staff told district council they had received nearly 10 times as much feedback about their budget compared to the year before, largely centred around the issues of the Spirit Trail and community desire for more sports fields.
"The public came out to speak and provide their input in a way that I don't think we've ever seen, at least in my time here on council," said Back.
At the same time, not every funding request was accepted.
Coun. Catherine Pope was disappointed that funding for proposed bike lanes across the district was further delayed under the new plan, despite positive community feedback.
"All of these cycling projects have got the big 'D', which to me means deferred," she said. "Why do we need two to three years to construct a bike lane?"
There wasn't enough support at the council meeting to include bike lane funding in the new budget, with Mayor Mike Little one of many concerned about having to further increase property taxes.
"We're making it so that the landlord has to make up more and more of the taxes, because we raise them by 5.25 but they're only able to claw back through increases [on tenants] by about two per cent," he said.
"I understand that people have the perception that we are a very wealthy community. The wealthy people won't have a problem with ... the higher increase, but the tax gets shared with everyone."
Proposed or passed 2023 property tax increases in Metro Vancouver municipalities