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Vancouver council approves 7.5% property tax hike for 2024

Mayor Ken Sim gets $180,000 boost to his $1.3-million office budget
Vancouver city council approved Tuesday a 7.5 per cent property tax hike for 2024.

Vancouver taxpayers can expect a 7.5 per cent property tax hike in 2024.

City council voted Tuesday to approve the hike — a half per cent lower than staff recommended — to balance a $2.15-billion operating budget, an increase of approximately $193 million over the 2023 budget.

Mayor Ken Sim said he recognized that affordability continues to be “a challenge in our community,” but described the 2024 budget as “transitional” and that lower property tax increases are anticipated in the future.

The tax hike for 2023 was an unprecedented 10.7 per cent. Sim has repeatedly said since becoming mayor — and supporting the 10.7 per cent hike — that high tax increases are not sustainable.

“I think we're all pleased to see this number driven down by over three per cent this year, and we're going to continue to work hard in reducing property tax increases further in the upcoming years,” he said in his closing remarks.

$260 a year increase for homeowner

The 7.5 per cent increase translates to the owner of a median strata unit assessed at $804,000 paying an estimated $98 more next year, according to information supplied by the city’s communications department.

It rises to $260 for a median single-family home assessed at $2.1 million, and $472 for a median business property assessed at $1.2 million.

The tax increase doesn’t factor in utility fees and other taxes paid to the provincial government, TransLink, BC Assessment, Metro Vancouver and the Municipal Finance Authority of BC. Like taxes, utility fees are expected to increase annually, with seven per cent the estimate through to 2028.

City staff put council on notice in June that a significant tax increase was coming, warning that property taxes could be set at an average of nine per cent each year over the next five years, if the status quo of spending and generating revenue is not addressed.

The 10.7 per cent hike this year helped Sim’s ABC Vancouver party fulfill a campaign promise and unlock money to begin the hiring of 100 police officers, 58 mental health workers and 33 firefighters and staff.

Both the Vancouver Police Department and Vancouver Fire Rescue Services will also receive boosts to their budgets for 2024.

“In total, the increase for the VPD for 2024 is actually going to be over $32 million [from 2023],” Police Chief Adam Palmer said Tuesday at city hall. “So I’m happy with that.”

Fire department gets 7.7% increase

During debate in the council chamber, Sim successfully introduced an amendment to reduce the fire department’s budget request by $1 million. Sim’s rationale was that the fire department wouldn’t be hiring all newly approved 22 positions at the beginning of the year.

Fire Chief Karen Fry said the framing by some councillors that the fire department budget was being cut was “much ado about nothing,” noting the department was getting a $13.5-million increase, or 7.7 per cent over 2023.

“We're going to hire as soon as we feasibly can, but it takes a lot to train our staff and to get them on board,” Fry told Glacier Media. “So that million dollars we would usually use to hire in January... we won't be hiring till about halfway through the year.”

Sim also successfully added $180,000 to his office budget, which is currently $1.3 million.

At least $80,000 will allow for a person to be hired in the city clerks’ department “to provide administrative support to the mayor’s office.” The $100,000 will pay for additional “discretionary office expenses,” also in the mayor’s office.

Sim’s rationale for the increase was that his office was “operating at a significantly increased capacity compared to past mayors.” He cited numerous meetings, the need to engage with citizens, senior governments and city departments.

“The mayor's office in some weeks — or in some days — are having more meetings in one day than the previous administration had in a whole month,” the mayor said. “There's a whole bunch of reasons for that. But the reality is the amount of engagement with the public and our team members has increased exponentially.”

Added Sim: “If we want to do a great job and build this city to be the best city on the planet, we're going to have to add a few more resources.”

'I really reject this need'

The increase to the mayor’s office budget generated the most controversy of the council debate, with the three opposition councillors — the Greens’ Pete Fry and Adriane Carr, along with OneCity’s Christine Boyle — voting against the increase.

“I'm a little incredulous,” said Fry, citing a recent Glacier Media story that showed council is logging fewer hours in meetings than the previous Kennedy Stewart-led council.

“I really reject this need, with no real sort of determination as to why this increased workload for the mayor's office — or what the mayor's office is doing — that demands even more investment in the mayor's office.”

Boyle: “In a time of looking at a significant tax increase that we know our residents and small businesses struggle with, asking for an additional $180,000 in the mayor's office is, I think, deeply inappropriate.”

The 7.5 per cent tax hike was approved before an anticipated report from a budget task force that Sim created in April. The task force was supposed to deliver a report to the mayor by Oct. 3, with recommendations on how the city could save money.

Now, that report won’t be made public until mid-January.

Housing top issue for residents

Earlier this year, a total of 2,845 residents and 502 business owners completed the city’s annual budget survey, which was offered in English, simplified Chinese, traditional Chinese and Punjabi.

The survey found housing was the number one budget priority for both residents (70 per cent) and businesses (62 per cent). This was followed by infrastructure and transportation and equity and social issues.

Residents were most likely to support an increase in business or commercial property taxes. Business operators said they preferred new and increased user fees.

Just over half (53 per cent) of strata property owners agreed with a property tax increase in the range of $64 and $103 for 2024. Four out of 10 (39 per cent) owners of single-detached homes agreed with a property tax increase between $169 and $270.

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