The ruling Vision Vancouver council approved a last-minute property tax increase of .34 per cent Tuesday, which equates to an overall 4.24 per cent hike, that left the four Non Partisan Association councilors admittedly blindsided.
City staff’s proposed recommendation was for a 3.9 per cent property tax hike until Vision Coun. Raymond Louie successfully recommended halfway through the meeting that an additional .34 per cent increase be added to the overall hike.
“Today, I’m asking you to take action,” said Louie in challenging the NPA councillors, who attempted unsuccessfully at least three times to defer council’s decision on the budget and have staff look for ways to roll the additional tax hike into the $1.4-billion operating budget.
After four hours of debate, council voted 7-4 in favour of the operating budget and approved a $426-million capital budget. The NPA argued that Louie’s additional tax should have gone before the public before a council vote.
The back-and-forth between Louie and NPA Coun. George Affleck led to a fiery exchange between the two councillors during the lunch break. The Courier captured the political jousting on video, with Affleck accusing Louie of not being fair to taxpayers.
Louie responded: “So George, you don’t care about housing? You don’t care about the discrimination against the Chinese people?”
Affleck abruptly left the council chambers and did not answer Louie.
Louie’s references to housing and discrimination were related to the $2.4 million the city will now have — because of the additional .34 per cent increase — to spend on such initiatives as a $975,000 “tactical response team” to review regulations and create new policy and zoning changes to increase housing options in low-density neighbourhoods.
Other initiatives include:
– $300,000 towards having Chinatown become a UNESCO-recognized world heritage site.
– $250,000 to support programming related to the city’s work towards recognizing previous councils’ discrimination of Chinese people.
– $500,000 for “social grants.”
– $300,000 to help staff speed up permit approvals
– $125,000 to hire a “renter protection manager.”
In arguing for approval of the budget, Vision Coun. Heather Deal said the tax hike amounts to an average increase for a single-family house homeowner of $87 per year.
Of that, Deal said, 85 per cent will be for fixed costs of running the city and hiring people, including honouring collective agreements of police officers, firefighters and other union workers.
“Only $13 will be for the increases that we’ve asked for,” said Deal, noting the annual cost is $4.25 for the owner of an average-sized apartment.
Those new investments, she said, include increasing the efficiency of the city’s development and permit system, responding to the opioid crisis, implementing the empty homes tax, adding more childcare and creating more housing options.
Deal made those comments before Louie introduced the additional tax hike of .34 per cent.
The city’s new calculation under the 4.24 per cent tax hike is that a single-family home assessed at $1.8 million amounts to an extra $94 per year and $32 per year for a median strata unit assessed at $609,000.
Deal didn’t include the additional increases in utility fees in her calculation. That $87 tax hike per year — which was based on a 3.9 per cent tax increase and not the approved 4.24 per cent increase — is in addition to $100 in utility fees for a total of $187 per year.
City budget documents show that a person’s estimated tax bill will be $2,312. Add $1,371 in utility costs — $653 for water, $424 for sewer, $294 for solid waste — and that person’s combined bill is $3,683.
That calculation, again, was done under a 3.9 per cent increase.
For a business property assessed at $704,000, the 3.9 per cent tax increase coupled with increases in utility fees would have meant a $239 hike. So that’s $3,886 in property taxes and $1,273 in utilities for an estimated bill of $5,159.
The city did not say Tuesday how those costs for business property owners would increase under a 4.24 per cent increase.