British Columbia

Metro Vancouver moves to hike property taxes by $33 in 2020

Metro Vancouver politicians gave their tentative approval on Wednesday to a budget that would increase expenses from $836.4 million in 2019 to $890.1 million next year. 

Utilities take up the bulk of increase, but there are new funds for housing and parks

Metro Vancouver is the regional governing body for every municipality between Lions Bay, Bowen Island, Delta, Langley Township and Maple Ridge. Its chair is Sav Dhaliwal. (Justin McElroy/CBC)

Water and sewage services underpin the basic function of regional government — but they don't come cheap. 

Metro Vancouver politicians gave their tentative approval on Wednesday to a budget that would increase expenses from $836.4 million in 2019 to $890.1 million next year.

Mayors and councillors moved ahead with the 2020 budget at a workshop meeting, though they still must formally pass it at another meeting planned for early November. 

If approved, it would mean the regional levy on property taxes for the average Metro Vancouver home would increase by $33 next year, from $535 to $568.

And, due mostly to projected population growth or planned infrastructure upgrades and sustainability initiatives, the average cost of the regional levy would go up an additional $200 in four years, to $768 by 2024. 

"They are fluid in a way, because things do change," said Metro Vancouver Chair Sav Dhaliwal.

"But some projects, obviously if they're currently underway, won't."

New fund for parks

Around $8 of that $33 increase will come from new funds that Metro Vancouver approved earlier this year: $4 million annually to help add to Metro Vancouver's stock of purpose-built, low-income rental housing, and $4 million to help Metro Vancouver acquire more land for regional parks.

However, the fund for regional parks is scheduled to increase by $4 million a year, to $20 million in 2024, and some directors argued against such a large long-term increase.

"We're all developing parks, so what's the difference between a regional park and a city park?," said Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie.

"The region is stepping in where the cities aren't ... I think this is overreach."

But the majority of directors said they were comfortable approving the long-term financial plan, saying proposed increases to the park levy could always be curtailed or cancelled in the future. 

"You can't make more land," said North Vancouver District councillor Lisa Muri. 

"We're paving paradise really well. We have to continue to grow and protect this livable region, and part of it is going to cost lots of money."

Pacific Spirit Regional Park near the University of British Columbia in Vancouver is a Metro Vancouver Park. The regional government wants to collect an additional $60 million over five year from taxpayers to buy more land. (Adda83/Shutterstock)
 

Where to cut?

While directors gave tentative approval to all of the new measures in the 2020 budget, several expressed misgivings about the long-term plan to raise Metro Vancouver's property tax levy by approximately 43 per cent over the next five years.   

"There's clearly a big white elephant sitting in front of us," said Pitt Meadows Mayor Bill Dingwall.

"We're looking at significant increases to our taxpayers, and I think we need to find a different way of generating revenue."

Several directors raised the idea of increasing development cost charges in the future, so that new condos and homes would pay for more of the cost of region's utility upgrades — in part because of the region's growth. 

Port Coquitlam Mayor Brad West worried attempts to lower costs later on, after new projects were underway, would be futile. 

"We're setting ourselves up for failure if we're going to somehow go in future years ... and alter the outcome," West said.

"I don't feel I have anywhere near the expertise in this area to point to individual elements to say 'no you shouldn't do this, or no you shouldn't do that.'"

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