British Columbia

Vancouver approves 0.5% property tax hike to fight overdose crisis

The tax increase will mean an extra $4 for condo owners, $11 for single family homeowners and $19 for the average commercial property.

Tax increase will mean an extra $4 for condo owners, $11 for single family homes

A Vancouver firefighter looks on as a paramedic deals with an overdose on the Downtown Eastside. Vancouver city council voted Dec. 13 to approve an extra 0.5 per cent property tax increase to pay for more resources to deal with the public health emergency. (CBC)

Vancouver city council has approved a 0.5 per cent increase in property taxes to pay for more resources to deal with the fentanyl overdose crisis.

City councillors voted 8-3 to approve the tax increase, which was passed as part of the city's 2017 capital and operating budget.

The total property tax increase for 2017 is 3.9 per cent.

Funds for new medic unit, training

According to a report from city staff, the tax would raise about $3.5 million next year for the city's contingency fund, which is needed to give staff more flexibility to respond to the public health emergency.

The 0.5 per cent additional property tax will mean an extra $4 for the average strata unit, $11 for the average single-family home and $19 for the average commercial property, according to city staff.

The report from city staff proposing the property tax hike states that the fund could be used for a new Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services medical unit for the Downtown Eastside, a new community policing centre in Strathcona and additional shelter space.

The report also recommends additional training and mental health support for frontline workers, as well as more staff to help with overdose management at shelters and outreach centres.

Tax increase divides council

The vote on the 0.5 per cent increase triggered intense debate in council chambers Tuesday.

NPA Coun. Melissa de Genova, who voted against the tax hike, said there had not been enough time before the report came to council for the public to have "thoughtful consultation or input."

"We have not consulted with people. It's easy for us to make that decision, $4 more, $10 more, hundreds of dollars more — it all depends on your property value," she said.

"But that being said, those costs are then downloaded to renters as well, and it really just chips away at affordability."

Much of the discussion focussed on whether or not it was the city's responsibility to take action and come up with funds to tackle the opioid crisis, rather than the provincial and federal governments.

"This idea that we somehow do more with the provincial and federal governments than is already being done again reminds me of Nero fiddling while Rome burns," said Vision Vancouver Coun. Tim Stevenson.

Vancouver firefighters Jason Lynch and Jay Jakubec try to revive an addict who has already had two doses of Narcan after overdosing on fentanyl in Vancouver’s downtown eastside. (CBC)

"We have a situation that is an absolute crisis. People are dying like they have never died before on the streets, and we have men and women — first responders — who go out and do this work. And it is those people … who are asking for this increase, this minor increase."

City calls for more support from province, feds

During the meeting on Dec. 14, all city councillors agreed that the city should put more pressure on the provincial and federal governments to help Vancouver respond to the crisis.

B.C. Premier Christy Clark previously told CBC News that the province has carried its fair share of the workload.

"The provincial government has invested heavily in this, and we're going to continue to do that," she said.

"The City of Vancouver needs to do the same."

The latest figures from B.C.'s Ministry of Health show $43 million spent so far on the fentanyl crisis by all government departments within the province.

This year, approximately two people have died every day in B.C. from accidental drug overdoses, and 62 per cent of those cases are linked to fentanyl.