Vancouver mayor's budget task force report pushed back to new year

Vancouver Mayor Ken Sim is pictured during the announcement of the budget task force on April 3.  (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)
Vancouver Mayor Ken Sim is pictured during the announcement of the budget task force on April 3. (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)

A volunteer team of accountants, analysts and advisors put in place by Vancouver Mayor Ken Sim to look at the city's budget for efficiencies and potential new revenue streams won't make a final report public until the new year.

In April, Sim put in place the external task force following the approval of a 10.7 per cent property tax increase for the $1.9 billion operating budget for 2023.

Sim's mandate was to have the team look deeply into the city's operating and capital budgets to find ways to not only save money but improve service levels, transparency and ultimately governance, with a report made public by Oct. 17.

Finances related to the Vancouver Police Department, Park Board and Public Library, which make up a third of the city's budget, is not part of the task forces's mandate.

On Tuesday, Randy Pratt, a certified public accountant and chartered accountant who currently works in the real estate industry, provided council with an overview of the task force's work so far and some "high-level" recommendations.

Mandate, governance, infrastructure

Pratt said the final report will recognize three themes: costs the city is mandated to pay for; how to manage the city effectively; and properly investing in infrastructure.

He told council that the city's numbers show it's paying for services — such as housing, childcare and health care related to the toxic drug crisis — that appear to be outside of its mandate and should be more properly funded by other governments.

"We need to lean in on the provincial and federal governments to support the city in that situation," he told councillors. "We have to look after our fellow citizens and that is one way we can do it."

He said the report will not recommend that the city back away from responsibility in these matters, but instead find better ways to fund them with help from other revenue sources, such as other levels of governments.

Pratt also spoke about the long known problem of how to properly fund the replacement of aging infrastructure, and offered hope in describing Vancouver's economy as having "immense potential" to come up with ways to finance its operating and capital costs.

Sim has granted a 12-week extension to the team, which will now present its findings on Jan. 17, Pratt said. He said the team needed more time to properly assess the city's finances, which are chronicled for 2024 in a 501-page draft budget worth $2.15 billion.

The draft budget, which was made public last week, will require a 7.6 per cent property tax increase.

It's unclear if the task force's report will have specific recommendations that would result in lowering the proposed property tax increase.

Pratt said he's been "humbled by the amount volunteer hours" needed to properly do the work the team was mandated to do by Sim. He said the team has conducted around 400 interviews.

"I cannot overstate how fortunate Vancouver is that you and your crew stepped up to this challenge and how much work you put into it," said Sim on Tuesday.

Pratt said the report will direct the city to strike a standing committee to see the implementation of recommendations from its final report.