News / Vancouver

"This is complete B.S." Surprise tax increase at city hall roils NPA

Coun. Raymond Louie is asking for $2.4 million more to address backlogged building permits and hire more staff to implement a housing plan

Vancouver city hall.

The Canadian Press

Vancouver city hall.

Tempers flared Tuesday as Vancouver city council voted to approve a 2018 budget that included a surprise last-minute property tax increase.

Vision Coun. Raymond Louie introduced an amendment to the budget to add $2.4 million in spending, covered by an additional 0.34 per cent property tax increase.

That nudged the property tax increase from 3.9 per cent to 4.24 per cent. The average single-family homeowner will have to pay an extra $94 while the average strata condo owner will pay $32 more per year.

The extra money is earmarked for more staff to implement Vancouver’s new housing strategy; a UNESCO application for Chinatown and addressing historic wrongs toward Chinese people; more social grants; and streamlining the city’s beleaguered building permit system.

“Do you think that we have a housing crisis? If you do, resources are necessary to address it,” Louie told reporters.

NPA councillors George Affleck, Melissa De Genova, Elizabeth Ball and Hector Bremner were surprised by the late addition, which was introduced on the same day as the vote. But Green Coun. Adriane Carr staunchly supported the majority-holding Vision councillors.

“This is complete B.S.,” said Affleck in disgust after hearing Louie’s justification for bringing forward the last-minute addition to the budget. He predicted that if NPA councillors vote against the budget increase, Vision will use that as evidence that the centre-right party doesn’t care about social issues. B.C.’s next municipal election is in October 2018.

“You’re bringing in a tax increase at the last minute is 100 per cent political,” Affleck fumed. “This is unbelievable.”

Last year, Vision councillors also brought forward a last-minute budget addition: a 0.5 per cent property tax increase earmarked for the opioid overdose crisis, which at the time had suddenly become much worse and was straining the fire department’s resources.

In contrast, housing affordability and backlogged permit times have been long-standing issues in Vancouver.

Affleck — who has already announced that he will not seek re-election — believes Vision’s decision to allocate spending on housing, health and social programs is a misplaced priority and those areas should be left to senior levels of government.

But Vision councillors said they had heard loud and clear from city residents that they want more action on housing. Vision Coun. Heather Deal pointed out that much of the property tax increase was devoted to fixed costs such as wage increases in a collective agreement with the unions that represent city workers and an increase in water and sewer rates handed down by the Metro Vancouver Regional District.

NPA Coun. Melissa De Genova argued that in Canada’s most expensive city, raising property taxes as a way to help make the city more affordable seems counter-intuitive, while Coun. Hector Bremner questioned whether staff couldn’t have found more room in the existing budget for the extra spending instead of raising taxes.

The budget, as passed, included a $1.4 billion operating budget and $426.4 million in capital spending.

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