British Columbia

City of Vancouver freezes police department funding as part of 2021 budget

The City of Vancouver will have a $1.6-billion operating budget next year, a five per cent average property tax increase — and a police budget that stays the same.

City revenue will decrease by about $20 million in total due to effects of COVID-19

A close up picture of two Vancouver Police officers with jackets and walkie-talkies on their chests.
The Vancouver Police Department had submitted a requested budget of $346.6 million for 2021, but city council voted to set it at $340.9 million instead. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

The City of Vancouver will have a $1.6-billion operating budget next year, a five per cent average property tax increase — and a police budget that stays the same.

Those were the biggest decisions made by city council as it passed its 2021 budget on Tuesday, following weeks of consultations and meetings on how to deal with competing priorities during the pandemic.

"The ask of five per cent is hard for some, but I do want people to think about what you are gaining for the city," said Coun. Adriane Carr, who said the budget moved Vancouver forward on housing affordability and climate action. 

The increase works out to around a $104-increase for an average Vancouver residential property compared to 2020, not including utility and provincial fees. 

Council voted several times this year to keep the 2021 property tax increase at five per cent or less after last year's seven per cent increase. 

The 2021 budget anticipates city revenues will be down by $17 million compared to this fiscal year, anticipating continued effects of COVID-19 on income from parking and program fees. 

In response, the city has frozen hiring in many departments and used some of its reserves in order to keep property tax increases at the five per cent level. 

You can see the draft budget proposal here

61 officers affected

The biggest change to what staff had proposed in the budget was money to the Vancouver Police Department, which takes up approximately 21 per cent of city expenditures. 

Staff had recommended a slight increase to the police budget of $343.1 million for 2021, while the VPD had put forward a proposed budget of $346.6 million

But an amendment by Coun. Christine Boyle to freeze the budget at $340.9 million passed with councillors Lisa Dominato, Colleen Hardwick and Rebecca Bligh in opposition. Councillors Sarah Kirby-Yung and Melissa De Genova recused themselves because their partners work for the VPD. 

"I think council sent a clear signal … that our priority is to be addressing public safety in more community-oriented ways," said Boyle, 

"It's not going to happen fast enough for some people. It may happen too fast for others. But actually, I feel strongly that council made a clear move."

VPD Chief Adam Palmer said the budget freeze and receiving $6 million less than requested would result in 61 fewer officers, though there remains the possibility the police board will appeal the decision to the provincial government. 

"We are the police for the entire community," he said to council before it made its decision.

"I see a lot of different approaches and rhetoric that's quite frankly misinformed or not understood."

In a written statement after the council vote, Palmer said the decision will leave VPD with a shortfall for fixed-cost obligations.

"I am disappointed with today's budget vote. I am concerned this decision will directly impact public safety in Vancouver and the wellness of our officers," Palmer said.

Where did the VPD money go?

Council then decided to take the approximately $2.5 million they took from the police budget, and divert it to a number of priorities previously not covered in the budget, including:

  • $450,000 for enhanced street cleaning.
  • $400,000 for the new independent auditor general's office.
  • $300,000 for community policing centres.
  • $300,000 for park cleanliness and safety.

The total budget passed on a 6-5 vote, with the four NPA councillors and independent Bligh opposed. 

"I share enthusiasm for a lot of new projects put forward, but … now is not the time, in my opinion, to go out and take on new things that are going to add expenses to the city," said Hardwick. 

However, a slim majority ultimately thought the budget struck an appropriate balance.

"These are initiatives I really wanted to see move forward," said Coun. Michael Wiebe.