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Green Party Councillor Adriane Carr says the new Vancouver City Council is paying the price for Vision Vancouver’s lack of action and fiscal squeeze while it had a majority.Rafal Gerszak/The Globe and Mail

A proposal for a more than 9-per-cent tax increase to cover Vancouver’s 2020 budget has sparked public backlash and a promise from many councillors that they will be looking for ways to cut costs.

But councillors also say it’s important for them to carry on with significant new programs, such as an overall plan for the city and a big push to reduce climate-change effects. Those are slated to cost $5.5-million and $6.7-million, respectively, in 2020.

The new council is taking a different direction on several fronts from the former Vision Vancouver party that ruled council for a decade.

“It’s about making change. This council has different priorities,” said Green Party Councillor Adriane Carr, who pushed for both new initiatives. She said this council is also paying the price for Vision’s lack of action and fiscal squeeze.

That prompted the new council to significantly increase police and firefighter staff to keep up with population growth and changing stresses, such as the overdose crisis. The addition of 25 police officers and 30 firefighters is a big part of the projected 9.3-per-cent increase.

“I think a tax increase is in order because of the lack of investment the last 10 years,” Ms. Carr said.

But she was among the councillors who said they’ll be looking at whether there are some lower-priority initiatives, especially those left over from the previous administration, that could be trimmed, delayed or cut in the $1.8-billion budget.

All councillors say they are getting bombarded with angry e-mails or face-to-face conversations with residents, business owners and even non-resident workers about the size of the increase, which the city manager says will cost $150 for the median residence and $270 for the median business.

“People are talking to us about a doubling of the increase from last year,” Non-Partisan Association Councillor Lisa Dominato said. “People are feeling a bit overwhelmed.”

One factor about municipal tax bills that makes increases such a flashpoint is that the notice that arrives in the mail also includes school taxes, TransLink taxes, and Metro Vancouver taxes, which can almost double the total. So when people hear about a nearly 10-per-cent tax increase, that will translate to a nearly $600 tax increase on the median single-family house of $1.7-million.

Vancouverites had a relatively high increase in 2019 of 4.5 per cent after grumbling from newly elected councillors who said they were stuck with what Vision Vancouver had set in motion for that year.

This budget, however, includes nine motions of the new council for initiatives they supported. Besides the big-budget climate-emergency and city-plan projects, they include $420,000 for a project to address historic discrimination against South Asians, $250,000 to expand the dog-waste pick-up program in parks, $240,000 for additional support for councillors’ work and $120,000 to develop a textile-recycling system after charity clothing drop-off bins were banned.

The police budget is expanding by $13-million to $315-million.

A 1-per-cent increase in taxes generates about $6-million for the city budget.

Several councillors said they will be listening to what people suggest as potential cuts during a day-long session of information and speakers on Tuesday.

But many are anxious to hang on to new initiatives they support.

“I want to make sure we follow through with funding for climate-emergency commitments and funding for renters and affordable housing,” OneCity’s Christine Boyle said. She added that some constituents support higher taxes, saying that property taxes are relatively low and that the money is a good public investment.

Ms. Dominato said perhaps some programs could be paid for over more years to reduce the impact in 2020. Ms. Carr said she has asked staff to report back on low-priority items left over from previous years. And the NPA’s Melissa De Genova, who chairs the finance committee, said perhaps some items could be delayed until the city can leverage some provincial or federal money to help pay for them.

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