On December 7, Council reviewed the operating budget for the 2022 year, budgeting for how the work of the city would be paid for. This also means figuring out what property tax increases would be for property owners in Vancouver, and whether they would hold to a five percent increase or go beyond that figure.
After hours of discussion and presentations, an operating budget of 1.747 billion dollars was passed in a six to five vote, with property taxes to increase 6.35 percent in 2022.
On the same day a report signed off by Theresa O’Donnell the director of planning and general manager of Planning, Urban Design, and Sustainability proposed a myriad of nature based carbon sequestration goals and potential projects for Council’s consideration. Many of these initiatives had already been presented and discussed with Council after the Climate Emergency Parking Plan was voted down.
This proposed work would have previously been covered under Vancouver’s capital plans for each department. But as City spending and projects have increased in the last ten years (as well as staffing in both the Mayor’s office and in departments) new ways to fund and repackage initiatives was needed.
No one will deny that climate change and its consequences are the dominant theme of this era. The City’s Climate Emergency Action Plan (CEAP) wants to slice carbon pollution by fifty percent of the year 2007 base by 2030 with carbon neutral status by 2050. The report before Council looks at creating more green spaces with trees, investing in filtrating water, and creating more resilient sustainable spaces.
The difference between the failed Climate Emergency Parking Program and the Climate Emergency Action Levy is that it is now more equitable. People who live in more expensive housing will pay more of the tax. In the previously proposed curbside parking tax, those able to park on private property would escape the charge. Those private parkers would probably be more likely to be driving the expensive higher carbon emission vehicles that also would escape the proposed 500 to 1,000 dollar annual “dirty vehicle” charge.
For 2021 nine million dollars of the capital plan will go forward for climate emergency measures. In terms of the impact of the levy on property owners, the Mayor has stated the increased tax will be $72 annually for condo owners, $168 for an average house, and $312 for a “median” business property.
In particular the levy will provide in the first year 2.5 million dollars towards electric vehicle infrastructure, and 2 million dollars for transit infrastructure, slow street maintenance and walking/cycling improvements. Two million dollars will be allocated to “Natural Climate Solutions” and a further two million dollars for City of Vancouver civic building retrofits. Half a million dollars will be left for Council’s discretion to allocate towards work, and this levy will now be part of every future Council’s annual budget process.
One of the challenges of the levy is going to be the cost to businesses that may be in a not so “median” locations and not be able to pay any increased taxes with the pandemic greatly impacting their revenue. Businesses pay property taxes as part of their space rent.
Many previously plum business locations downtown may not have anticipated foot traffic returning if indeed 30 to 40 percent of workers do not return to a five day downtown office. There are also examples of very successful businesses such as the takeout restaurant locations of Smak closing because of lack of customers.
And a quick reminder: the items paid or under the “climate emergency action levy” used to be covered under different budget items in the city. This is less a climate emergency response tax, but more an increased tax so that the city can get on with proposed projects. Each Council will now able to ascertain what initiatives will be covered under this on-going levy at capital plan budget time. Some items, like completing the separated storm/sanitary sewer system (which prevents sewage overflows from going into watercourses and the ocean) will hopefully be expedited with this levy.
The video of the meeting is also available and you can see the voting for the Climate Emergency Action Levy at 5:41 here.