British Columbia

'It won't be enough': Vancouver mayor says provincial financial relief isn't sufficient

Mayor Kennedy Stewart is pushing the B.C. government for more help, saying new measures to support local governments won't fully address revenue shortfalls. The province is also making further cuts to the school tax rate for business owners, for an overall reduction on commercial property taxes of 25 per cent.

B.C. government announces fiscal safety net for municipalities, cuts commercial property tax bills by 25%

B.C. business owners will see overall property taxes cut by 25 per cent with further cuts to school taxes. Local governments can now borrow, interest-free, from their existing capital reserves to help pay for operating expenses. (Tanya Fletcher / CBC)

Vancouver's mayor is again pushing the B.C. government for more financial help, saying new measures to support local governments won't fully address revenue shortfalls. 

It comes as the province authorizes local governments to borrow, interest-free, from their existing capital reserves to help pay for operating expenses, such as employee salaries.

Provincial school tax remittances will also be delayed until the end of the year, and municipalities will be given greater flexibility to carry debt for an additional year.

"While I want to thank [the province] for taking some initial steps to help municipalities, I do not believe they will be enough for us to avoid more layoffs and cuts to services," said Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart in response.

Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart says the city needs more financial help than the provincial government is currently offering. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

In a statement Thursday, he outlined the city's recent moves to shutter some services, layoff 10 per cent of its workforce, and reduce management pay by 10 per cent — as well as his own.

This week he asked for $200 million from the B.C. government, but the province offered up no direct cash as part of its latest announcement to help communities.

Stewart acknowledged one measure that will help ease current cash flow pressures: deferring the school tax deadline will delay almost $700 million in tax transfers from the city to the province until Dec. 31, 2020. 

But he said the new measures allowing municipalities to borrow from capital reserves will not help the city fill its $110-million budget gap in the long run, pointing out those loans need to be paid back in full. 

"This will happen either through savings due to cuts or property tax rate hikes, as we simply do not have access to other revenue sources such as sales tax or income tax, nor the legal ability to run deficits over the long term," Stewart said. 

Additional commercial property tax cuts

On Thursday, the B.C. government also announced further fiscal help for business owners by again lowering property taxes for commercial properties. 

"We are providing further support by making additional temporary property tax changes to provide province-wide relief for business to help weather the pandemic," said Finance Minister Carole James.

Last month, the B.C. NDP announced the school tax for commercial real estate would be cut in half for light and major industry property classes. The tax savings for the average urban commercial property owner was estimated at $4,000.

Now, the province is slashing the school tax rate again for overall savings of 25 per cent on the total property tax bill for most businesses. It's expected to save commercial owners up to $700 million across B.C. 

Businesses and landlords are also being given more time to pay their property tax without penalty, as the date that late payment penalties apply for certain commercial properties — in classes 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8 — is being postponed until Oct. 1, 2020.

The province says the changes to B.C.'s property tax framework complement federal measures and build on the $5 billion B.C. COVID-19 Action Plan unveiled last month.

If you have a COVID-19-related story we should pursue that affects British Columbians, please email us at impact@cbc.ca.  

About the Author

Provincial Affairs Reporter covering the B.C. Legislature. Anything political: tanya.fletcher@cbc.ca

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