Homeowners and business operators be warned: Your taxes are set to go up again.
The City of Vancouver released its 2014 budget Wednesday and proposed a 1.9 per cent property tax hike to balance a $1.2 billion operating budget and $285 million capital budget.
The increase is said to be the equivalent of $36 for a residential property worth $1 million and $156 for a business. But when added with an increase in utility fees, the overall cost for homeowners will be $65 and $160 for business operators.
The proposed tax hike, on which council will vote Dec. 10, continues a pattern of annual tax hikes set by the political party in power at city hall. Last year, the ruling Vision Vancouver council raised taxes by two per cent and, in 2012, by 2.84 per cent.
When Vision won its first majority in November 2008, taxes increased 15.79 per cent from 2009 to 2011. That hike included a percentage of business tax shifted to property owners.
The Vision council has argued, however, the 15.79 per cent number would have been closer to 13 per cent, had a city strike not occurred in 2007 under an NPA administration and saved the city money in wages and benefits.
Figures supplied to the Courier from the city's communications department showed taxes increased 17.76 per cent from 2006 to 2008 for residents. That's when the NPA was in power and the cumulative effect of the business tax shift — 8.79 per cent — was higher than the 5.98 per cent Vision dealt with between 2009 to 2011.
Council adopted the shift based on recommendations from the Property Tax Policy Review Commission, which said a target distribution of 52 per cent residential and 48 per cent non-residential should be achieved.
At the time, it was a fact that non-residential owners were paying a disproportionate amount of tax compared not only to residential owners but business owners across the country.
To avoid the significant impact of one huge increase in taxes for residential property owners, council agreed to a gradual increase over the years. Between 2008 and 2011, a total of $22.2 million was redistributed, with a balance of $1.6 million remaining for the 2012 tax year — the final year of the shift.
NPA Coun. Elizabeth Ball was a member of then-Sam Sullivan’s administration between 2005 and 2008. Ball, who was re-elected in 2011, acknowledged the hike in taxes under the NPA.
But Ball pointed out the mandated business tax shift and the amount shifted each year were not consistent. For example, in 2007, the property tax hike combined with the tax shift was eight per cent. In 2008, the overall cost was 3.36 per cent.
When asked whether an NPA government would raise taxes next year, Ball told the Courier she couldn’t properly answer the question until she had more detail on the proposed 2014 budget.
Though the budget document runs more than 200 pages — and Ball acknowledged it was more comprehensive than last year — she said a detailed breakdown of each city department’s spending is absent.
“The less information we, as a council, have to make decisions, the more blurred the decisions are,” she said, adding she had been reviewing the budget document for four hours when the Courier reached her. “It’s still not what we need to make an informed decision.”
Mayor Gregor Robertson issued a statement Wednesday saying a tax hike of 1.9 per cent, if approved by council, will mean Vancouver will have the second-lowest tax rate in the region next to West Vancouver.
The mayor also pointed out the city’s debt has declined by $191 million since 2009.
Vision Coun. Geoff Meggs told the Courier last month that residents’ satisfaction with the quality of city services is very high.
“We've got to maintain that and there's a price to pay for that,” Meggs said. “It's just the way it is."