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Vancouver residents may soon be subject to a 2-per-cent increase on most user fees.

Rafal Gerszak/The Globe and Mail

As Vancouver residents prepare to vote on a new tax to pay for expanded transit, the governing Vision Vancouver party is seeking a 2.4-per-cent increase in property taxes their rival Non-Partisan Association deems unfair.

Vision and the NPA have come together to seek a Yes vote in the looming mail-in plebiscite for a new 0.5-per-cent sales tax to cover some costs for regional transit improvements over a decade. Lower Mainland voters will send in their ballots March 16 to May 29.

Both parties have said an east-west subway is crucial to the city's transit needs, while critics of the transit tax have said it is too expensive for residents.

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But on Tuesday, Vision and the NPA were sharply divided over the broader $1.5-billion operating and capital budget for the city. The budget goes to a council vote next week, but is expected to pass, given Vision's majority.

Veteran Vision Councillor Geoff Meggs, chair of the standing committee on city finance and services, said the increase is the best possible option to deal with fiscal pressures facing the city, and also head off steeper increases in future.

In an interview during a break in council business on Tuesday, Mr. Meggs said that about half the increase is made up of an "absolutely essential" arbitrated settlement with the city's police and firefighters.

"We've established what we think is a good rate that balances our budget but protects our services," Mr. Meggs said.

The mayor's office noted that property tax increases elsewhere range from 2.9 per cent in Surrey to 2.75 per cent in Toronto and 4.5 per cent in Calgary.

Mr. Meggs said public feedback has suggested acceptance of higher fees, but an aversion to cuts in services. Between the two, there's an interest in efficiency, he said.

"This means we don't have to make some very serious cuts in the area of services, which I think voters would find unacceptable," said Mr. Meggs. "We can avoid that this year."

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However, NPA Councillor George Affleck said he would not likely support the proposed 2.4-per-cent property tax increase.

Mr. Affleck, one of three NPA members on the 10-member city council, said a 1-per-cent to 1.5-per-cent increase would have been more reasonable.

"We are taxed too much in Vancouver," he said.

Mr. Affleck said he disagreed with increased city-related costs for residents, including a proposed 2-per-cent increase in most user fees that is part of the budget.

"There's always room for improvement. It's our job as a council to always challenge staff," he said.

He said if the city could find $6-million to cut, it could trim one percentage point from the 2.4-per-cent property tax increase.

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"That's totally doable," he said. "If staff sharpen their pencils, there's easily $6-million to find."

He said he was considering a referral motion to send the budget back to staff.

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