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Vancouver residents and businesses are facing a 6.3-per-cent property-tax hike – a hefty increase that is proving to be a test for the city’s inexperienced and fractured council.

The council and mayor, who have been on the job for a little more than a month, are facing a dictionary-sized budget document that details $1.5-billion in spending. Some councillors are fighting to improve social services and create affordable housing in the city, while others are more alarmed about the ultimate cost to taxpayers.

Mayor Kennedy Stewart said he plans to vote for the budget and tax increase – 4.9 per cent for city services and 1.4 per cent for utilities – because he believes the increase will provide funding for much-needed new initiatives in housing, security and arts and culture.

He also argued that most of the increase involves factors over which the city has no control, including inflation (2 per cent), the province’s new employer health tax (2 per cent) and increases in the cost of regional services for water and sewer.

“I’ll be supporting the budget. I do think it’s prudent,” Mr. Stewart said.

Municipal staff estimated the increase will mean an additional $227 in city and utility taxes for the median Vancouver home, worth $1.8-million, and $308 for the median business property, worth $855,000.

In the past five years, tax increases have ranged from 1.5 to 4.3 per cent for just the city portion, not including utilities. The highest increase was 5.85 per cent in 2009, the year after Vision Vancouver swept into power and introduced several new initiatives.

The October election saw Mr. Stewart, who ran as an independent, replace Gregor Robertson of the Vision Vancouver party. The centre-right Non-Partisan Association won five council seats, while the other five were split between the left-leaning Green, COPE and OneCity parties. Unlike most Canadian cities, Vancouver does not have traditional wards, and municipal elections are dominated by political parties.

A council meeting on Tuesday featured a long list of speakers, many identifying areas where the city should spend more: to protect the city from fires, to fight and prevent crime, remove garbage from parks, as well as to provide more affordable housing and better services – to better address the city’s opioid and homelessness crises.

Firefighters said they have half the resources of comparable cities yet are grappling with more complex fires in the city’s increasing proportion of apartment buildings, as well as responding to calls about opioid overdoses and fires in vacant houses.

Andrew Ledger, the president of the city’s outside workers' union, said his members would like to see more staff to keep Vancouver’s parks clean, as they too face pressure from denser development and more people using every square metre of park space.

Mr. Ledger also said his members support efforts to create more affordable housing, which include half a billion dollars in the capital budget and another $8.2-million from the operating budget, funded through the empty-homes tax.

But Non-Partisan Association councillors said the tax increase is too much of a burden. They suggested delaying the budget beyond the current scheduled date of Dec. 18 – possibly until the provincial deadline of April 1 – so new councillors can come up with ways to reduce spending.

“If we’re trying to find a 1-per-cent reduction, that’s only $7-million, and I have to believe we can find that,” NPA Councillor Sarah Kirby-Yung said.

Her party colleague, Colleen Hardwick, repeatedly asked speakers if they were worried that increasing taxes is making Vancouver more unaffordable for city workers.

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