British Columbia

Vancouver eyes property tax hike to fight overdose crisis

Vancouver city council is divided over the suggestion of charging homeowners an extra 0.5% in property tax to pay for more resources to combat the fentanyl crisis.

NPA councillor says the 0.5% tax is too much to ask of property owners

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 is considering charging homeowners an extra 0.5 per cent in property tax to pay for more resources to combat the fentanyl overdose crisis.

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.

While the report says it is unclear if the fentanyl crisis has peaked or if it will worsen, the skyrocketing number of overdoses has already increased workload and stress for first responders.

"It is unprecedented," said Coun. Geoff Meggs. "It wasn't something we discussed at all a year ago, and now we're losing someone every day." 

Paramedics and firefighters work to revive an overdose patient. (Frederic Gagnon/CBC)

The report proposes a new medical unit for the Downtown Eastside, a new community policing centre in Strathcona and additional shelter space.

"The estimated cost of adding, for example, a single medic truck with three firefighters on it would be about $1.8 to $1.9 million — that would take almost half of the additional amount we're proposing to put aside," said Meggs.

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.

City council divided

NPA councillor George Affleck is critical of the tax, saying it's too much to ask of homeowners — especially in light of other tax increases outlined in next year's proposed budget for services like water and sewage.

"Now we've had a last minute addition of point 0.5 per cent tax increase," he said. "So now the tax payers of the city will be seeing an increase in the [range] of 5.1 per cent."

Affleck says the provincial and federal government should fund the fight against fentanyl overdoses, instead of putting the burden on the city's homeowners.

"It's not something Vancouver can do on it's own and throw money at and solve. It's not," stressed Affleck.

Province 'too slow' says councillor

Aside from municipal resources, Meggs questions the B.C. government's response to what it deemed a public health emergency last April.

"There's an enormous amount of work that has to be done at the provincial level too, and I think we feel the province has been too slow to get up to speed on this," he said.

But Premier Christy Clark says 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 break down $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.

Vancouver city council will vote on the 2017 budget next Tuesday.