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Property tax increase for Vancouverites in 2022 drops from 6.35 to 5.7 per cent

News announced during council debate to reinstate $5.7 million to Vancouver police budget
Mayor Kennedy Stewart and a majority of councillors approved Tuesday reinstating $5.7 million to the Vancouver Police Department’s operating budget.

Vancouver council heard from city staff Tuesday that a property tax increase of 6.35 per cent approved in December to balance the 2022 operating budget will now be reduced to 5.7 per cent this year.

The reduction was made possible because the city has collected $6 million in unanticipated additional revenue via new construction since council's vote in December, according to Patrice Impey, the city’s chief financial officer.

“Which is a much larger number than we would normally have at this time,” said Impey, noting final approval on the tax rate will go before council in May.

Impey shared the news with council during debate related to the Vancouver Police Department and a recent provincial government-ordered ruling to reinstate $5.7 million to the department’s budget.

At issue was how council would cover the cost.

'Extraordinary removal of democracy'

A majority of council agreed to reinstate the funds via reserves but was not happy about it, with Mayor Kennedy Stewart calling the legal requirement under the Police Act “an extraordinary removal of democracy.”

Stewart was referring to the decision made in March by Wayne Rideout, B.C.’s director of police services, who ruled that $5.7 million requested as part of the VPD’s operating budget for 2021 shouldn’t have been rejected by council.

“There is really no discretion by councils to disagree or adjust even in the most dire circumstances — like in the middle of a pandemic, where we've laid off hundreds and hundreds of employees and cut all other departments,” said the mayor, referring to the December 2020 decision by council to freeze the VPD’s operating budget because of pandemic-triggered losses to the city.

The Vancouver Police Board later appealed council’s decision, which resulted in Rideout’s review and ruling that rendered council’s December 2020 vote irrelevant. Stewart was among the original cast of council members who opposed the $5.7 million.

He and five other councillors voted Tuesday to disagree in principle with the retroactive increase to the police department. At the same time, Stewart and a majority of councillors abided by the legal requirement to reinstate the $5.7 million.

'A strong message'

In doing so, council approved a series of amendments that called on the provincial government to clarify whether municipalities have a role in overseeing police budgets paid for by taxpayers.

Council also agreed to have wording added to the inserts a taxpayer receives with their tax notice to explain reasons for the 5.7 per cent increase, a large portion of it related to policing costs.

Coun. Jean Swanson tried unsuccessfully to have council outright reject Rideout’s decision and direct staff to investigate options for not paying the $5.7 million, including a judicial review. Christine Boyle was the only councillor to support Swanson’s amendment.

“We can send a strong message to the provincial government that we don't like them making all the policing decisions about our city,” said Swanson, who noted during the meeting the number of successful motions in the last term directed at community-led safety services.

“And we need proper funding for that, especially when they are downloading all these costs around mental health and homelessness.”

'Sound decision'

Coun. Pete Fry referred back to council’s December 2020 decision not to add the $5.7 million to the VPD’s 2021 operating budget in his remarks during the debate. Fry said the reason not to fully fund the police budget was not connected to the “defund police” movement.

“We were making cuts across the board to all of our departments in order to stave off some pretty significant financial impacts of the pandemic on our city,” he said.

“So that decision was a sound decision. It was not inspired by the sort of ‘defund’ notion…I think it was a reflection of the reality of the time.”

At the same time, Fry added, Rideout’s ruling in favour of the VPD showed “we are literally just here to sign the cheques, and that is problematic.”

Coun. Lisa Dominato attempted to get council’s support in December 2020 for a fully funded police operating budget that included the $5.7 million.

Dominato noted Tuesday that council was warned by staff in the most recent budget discussion that an appeal ruling was coming and could affect this year’s finances.

“When we had this discussion at the time in December [2021], we did not have a plan and the result was the VPD was not able to hire an additional 61 recruits,” said Dominato, who has frequently sided with councillors Melissa De Genova, Sarah Kirby-Yung, Rebecca Bligh and Colleen Hardwick to support police.

In December 2021, council approved the VPD’s budget request and was obligated to add $15.7 million in arbitrated wage increases for officers, bringing the total gross dollar amount to $366.9 million, before expenditures.

That amount didn’t include the $5.7 million reinstated Tuesday, which was covered by reserves.

Because the sum will be fixed in future budgets, it will have to be covered by property taxes in the 2023 budget.

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