Vancouver's new city council faces 1st big test with next week's first budget meeting

Vancouver's new council is set to debate a $1.9 billion budget with a recommended tax increase of five per cent at its inaugural council meeting Tuesday, following municipal elections in October. (City of Vancouver - image credit)
Vancouver's new council is set to debate a $1.9 billion budget with a recommended tax increase of five per cent at its inaugural council meeting Tuesday, following municipal elections in October. (City of Vancouver - image credit)

Vancouver will begin its budget deliberations next week — but unlike past years, there likely won't be a vote before council breaks for the holiday season.

City staff has submitted a draft $1.9 billion operational budget for 2023 to council for its Nov. 29 meeting. It has a proposed average property tax increase of five per cent.

However, the report prepared by staff notes it "will serve as the starting point for discussion and engagement" and only recommends that council pass the capital budget and utility fee increase by the end of the year.

The reason for the change is October's election, which saw Ken Sim become mayor, with his ABC Party winning a majority on council.

As a result, staff has proposed public engagement as council sets its priorities in January and February, with a final budget passed by the provincial deadline of March 31.

"The adjusted timeline will allow the new Council to develop their priorities and make adjustments to the working budget," the report notes.

Cities are mandated by the province to not run deficits and to raise revenue primarily through property taxes and user fees for things like parking or community amenities.

Average Vancouver property tax increases

'Really tough decisions'

After many years of property tax increases being under three per cent, Vancouver's budgets under former mayor Kennedy Stewart saw bigger hikes — including a seven per cent increase in 2020 and a 6.35 per cent increase last year — leading to the city having among the highest property taxes in the region.

The increases were a focal point of contention between Stewart and councillors who went on to join the ABC party that swept to power in October, and Sim has repeatedly pledged to find greater efficiencies in the budget.

"It's going to come down to some really tough decisions," said Green Party Coun. Pete Fry, who supported each of Stewart's budgets.

The Vancouver Police Department, which makes up more than 20 per cent of the budget, has asked for $21 million more than staff has put in its draft, due mainly to ABC's promise to hire 100 new police officers.

"They have a pretty clear set of agendas that does include a lot of investment in police, so I'm not sure what that means for what direction they want to send as far as the other services in the city."

2022 municipal property tax and utility fees for the average single family home

As the draft budget document notes, "[Vancouver] has also become increasingly active in addressing needs that fall within the traditional mandate of senior levels of government," including "affordable housing, public safety and emergency response, social services, mental health and addictions, child care and other services that serve both the city and the Metro Vancouver region."

That has frequently led to debates in council chambers on whether the city is spending too much money on issues outside its jurisdiction.

Fry said he'll be waiting to see where Sim and the new ABC councillors fall on continuing to fund those items.

"I think that they're going to have to figure out how they can meet their strategic priorities and the commitments they made in their campaign," he said.

"We'll respond the best we can … and try to speak for the people of Vancouver who did not elect a majority."