I always enjoy the municipal budget show. It reminds me of when I was a kid and went to the movies; they always started out with cartoons before we got down to the good guys and the bad guys shooting it out.
In Vancouver, the cartoons come courtesy of the park board. That Looney Tunes crowd brings up the most hilariously nutty proposals to balance their budget. A couple of years ago they got laughed out of the room when they threatened to shut down the Bloedel Conservatory. Last year, I just about split a gut—or was it a bladder?—when they announced that they were going to close washrooms in public parks. And this year—yuk, yuk, yuk—they were going to remove lifeguards from some of our public beaches.
While you and I may enjoy this comic interlude it usually causes grief for the park board’s political masters over at city hall. They get blamed for the stranglehold they maintain on the park board’s budget.
Why in the world, the editorial board at the Province gasped, would Vision risk human lives to save a “paltry” $270,000 when at the same time they are jacking up property taxes while putting $800,000 into a “green cause”—a recharging stations for electric vehicles?
Good question. If only it were true.
Actually, the city is only putting $70,000 into the project. And that is over two years. The rest comes from other levels of government. Besides, none of the city’s share comes from your property taxes. It is a grant from the province’s Carbon Tax Fund targeted specifically at green projects.
But never mind. The life guards will stay, the washrooms never closed and the Bloedel Conservatory is up and running.
This year’s budget, however, continues to play as the main feature. And yes, there will be a tax increase. It will be 2.5 per cent. And there will be one last shift in the tax burden from commercial property to residential, which rookie NPA Coun. George Affleck says means the residential tax increase will be “way more” than three per cent. Actually it will be 3.1 per cent. Incidentally, according to a survey done for the city, 80 per cent of residents and 65 per cent of businesses are willing to take a three per cent increase rather than see services reduced.
More than half of the tax increase goes to the police budget. In total, about 22 cents out of every dollar in the budget goes to the cops. In part it will help them fill 35 vacancies. And the 1,327 Vancouver police officers just signed a 33 month contract for an 8.45 per cent wage hike. People on the provincial payroll are getting “net zero” contracts. But the other workers toiling for Vancouver who are now at the bargaining table should expect to get something close to the police deal.
You can bet there is an allowance in the budget for just that.
There will, however, be a reduction in city staff. Numbers, which hit their peak in early 2009, have been declining aside from the bump up for the police. This is thanks to the Service Review driven by city manager Penny Ballem. It has cut costs by $10 million each of the past two years and will lighten the work force by another 89 bodies over the next year while peeling away another $10 million.
The tax increase from the city may be the least of your problems, though. About 58 percent of the tax bill relates to money going to Vancouver. There are, however, other people with their hands in your pockets that turn up on that bill. There are taxes for schools, TransLink, Metro Vancouver, the B.C. Assessment Authority and the Metro Financing Authority. You’ll also be soaked more for water, sewage and solid waste. All of those, according to Vancouver’s finance committee chair Coun. Raymond Louie will be above the rate of inflation and will continue to rise significantly over the next couple of years. None of which you will find worth laughing at.