February 26, 2022
by Carol Volkart
TEAM for a Livable Vancouver was formed last summer because of concerns that the current City Council is taking the city down a very bad path. It’s interesting to see many of those same concerns highlighted in a recent Daily Hive exploration of everything that’s going wrong at City Hall.
Scope creep? Check. Runaway-out-of-control budgets? Punishing annual property tax increases, with worse to come? A burgeoning six-figure-income-bureaucracy? Check, check and check.
One of the central themes in the series by reporter Kenneth Chan is how enthusiastically this Council has embraced issues beyond city governments’ usual mandates, to the detriment and financial cost of the people who live here.
For instance, there’s the $219 million the city spends annually on direct downloaded costs from the federal and provincial governments. The result is “significant ongoing pressures on the City budget and property taxes,” says a 2021 staff report quoted by Chan. It’s not just the senior governments’ fault, Chan points out – the current Council likes to be in the driver’s seat, so it brings some costs down on itself.
Such as approving a $1-billion housing strategy for SROs, and a $500-million Climate Emergency Action Plan that’s big on user fees and light on practical mitigation measures. The result? While the city renovates hotels and plans road tolls it doesn’t have the legal authority to implement, streets and parks deteriorate and property taxes soar.
Meanwhile, a recent City survey showed a majority of Vancouver residents (57 percent) want their municipal government “to prioritize the delivery of core services that municipal governments are directly responsible for.”
Chan’s series covers a litany of other problems, including the city’s ever-rising staff count, with the number of employees earning over $100,000 more than tripling between 2011 and 2020. Then there’s the 50-percent expansion in the annual operating budget over the last decade, triggering a steady round of property tax increases. They ranged from a low of 3.9 percent in 2017 to a high of 7 percent in 2020, but city staff warn they’ll be 9 to 10 percent in 2023, and an average of 7 percent will be needed for the five-year period from 2022 to 2026.
There are other ways of running a city. TEAM’s policies would tackle many of these problems, either directly or indirectly. For example, as spelled out in its Finance & Administration policy, it would focus on programs and services “within its core mandate in the most efficient and effective way possible before carefully considering the provision of services outside its mandate.” It would give residents a “meaningful voice” in spending decisions and limit tax increases “to what is necessary to maintain services at levels agreed to within the community.” It would also improve accountability by having departments develop annual service plans with performance benchmarks and hold management accountable for achieving them.
Chan’s analysis is flawed in some areas, particularly when he wanders away from specific data to back up his contentions. But in his description of a City Council gone terribly wrong, he makes a strong argument for why a new TEAM administration that will take the city in a better direction is so essential in this year’s civic election.