2011 Vancouver Operating Budget: no action on key priorities

Vancouver City Council will hold a special meeting this Tuesday, Dec 12, to look over the proposed municipal budget. An administrative report distributed November 15th outlining the budget can be found here. Last Thursday, December 2nd, a public meeting was held, with 18 of the 20 speakers speaking against the proposed budget.

Over the past few months, the city has been engaging the public through telephone, web and paper surveys (around 1300 were completed). According to the report, the most pressing issues in the city for residents are Homelessness, Affordable housing, and Public Transit. The popular focus on poverty and affordability was one of the reasons Vision Vancouver concentrated so much on homelessness during their campaign. Over the past two years, there has been a significant increase in homelessness and more communities are feeling the pressure of a lack of affordable housing. The most valued city services for residents, according to the survey, were Public Libraries, Fire Services, and Garbage Collection.

The budget itself claims that the major driver of increased city expenses are “Salary and Fringe Benefit Increases.” This is in light of the recent stories about employee morale in City Hall.

The police budget has already increased significantly since 2008. Given a 7-9% decrease in crime in Vancouver, a decrease in the police force spending would have resident support and likely relieve some of the financial pressure the City claims to be feeling. If anything, the fact that the chief of police isn’t asking for any new officers may mean that our police force has become saturated and even unmanageable.

When it comes to homelessness and affordable housing, City Council keeps arguing it has no money. However, these are the biggest priorities for citizens. It’s very important to remember that the City of Vancouver has the lowest business taxes anywhere. There is no mention of affordable housing or homelessness in the 2011 operating budget, reinforcing beliefs that Vision plans to continue taking responsibility for the NPA and Province’s 14 sites, approved before Vision was elected, instead of creating any new projects. City Council has so far been responsible for no new social housing projects since 2008.

Updated: The budget was passed and it looks as though all of the 2% property tax increases will be borne by residents, with a 4.2% increase for homeowners and 0.2% increase for businesses. Also, perhaps in reaction to the gang war blocks from the mayor’s home, the police budget will be increased by 2.8 percent, or $5.7 Million. Why the VPD needs this money when crime is decreasing and they self-admittedly have too many police officers is unclear.