Following weeks of consultations and meetings on how to deal with competing priorities during the pandemic, council of Vancouver has eventually passed its 2021 budget.
According to the bill, the City will have a $1.6-billion operating budget next year, a five per cent average property tax increase — and a police budget that stays the same.
Speaking on the development, Coun. Adriane Carr said “The ask of five per cent is hard for some, but I do want people to think about what you are gaining for the city,” adding that the budget moved Vancouver forward on housing affordability and climate action.
Reports have it that the increase works out to around a $104-increase for an average Vancouver residential property compared to 2020, not including utility and provincial fees.
It would be recalled that the Council voted several times this year to keep the 2021 property tax increase at five per cent or less after last year’s seven per cent increase.
It was disclosed that the 2021 budget anticipates city revenues will be down by $17 million compared to this fiscal year, anticipating continued effects of COVID-19 on income from parking and program fees.
It was gathered that in response, the city has frozen hiring in many departments and used some of its reserves in order to keep property tax increases at the five per cent level.
Analyst noted that the biggest change to what staff had proposed in the budget was money to the Vancouver Police Department, which takes up approximately 21 per cent of city expenditures.
According to reports, Staff had recommended a slight increase to the police budget of $343.1 million for 2021, while the VPD had a proposed budget of $346.6 million.
However, an amendment by Coun. Christine Boyle to freeze the budget at $340.9 million passed with councillors Lisa Dominato, Colleen Hardwick and Rebecca Bligh in opposition. Councillors Sarah Kirby-Yung and Melissa De Genova refused themselves because their partners work for the VPD.
Boyle said “I think council sent a clear signal … that our priority is to be addressing public safety in more community-oriented ways”
“It’s not going to happen fast enough for some people. It may happen too fast for others. But actually, I feel strongly that council made a clear move.”
On his part, VPD Chief Adam Palmer stated that the budget freeze and receiving $6 million less than requested would result in 61 fewer officers; though there remains the possibility the police board will appeal the decision to the provincial government.
Speaking before the council before the decision was made; Palmer said “We are the police for the entire community. I see a lot of different approaches and rhetoric that’s quite frankly misinformed or not understood.”
Palmer in a written statement after the council vote averred that the decision will leave VPD with a shortfall for fixed-cost obligations.
He said “I am disappointed with today’s budget vote. I am concerned this decision will directly impact public safety in Vancouver and the wellness of our officers”.
It was gathered that the council decided to take the approximately $2.5 million they took from the police budget, and divert it to a number of priorities previously not covered in the budget, including:
$450,000 for enhanced street cleaning.
$400,000 for the new independent auditor general’s office.
$300,000 for community policing centres.
$300,000 for park cleanliness and safety.
Reports have it that the total budget passed on a 6-5 vote, with the four NPA councillors and independent Bligh opposed.