VEDC plan advocates review of Vancouver's tax system

Post by Mike Klassen in

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Panel should consider higher tax rates for Vancouver's more valuable properties, and re-think DCLs: report

powerhouse-paradise CityCaucus.com has read a draft strategy document written by the Vancouver Economic Development Commission (VEDC) which recommends that the City should aggressively pursue a regional economic strategy over its outdated go-it-alone approach to boosting the city's business climate. It also advocates for setting up an expert panel to review the city's tax system, even suggesting that owners of higher value properties pay higher tax rates to compensate for poorer parts of the city.

Preceding the report's release comes news that this Monday morning mayors from Metro Vancouver's three largest cities, plus six other jurisdictions, are banding together in a first step for a cooperative economic strategy for the region during the 2010 Games. The so-called Metro Vancouver Commerce (MVC) initiative, started in 2007, was the brainchild of Sam Sullivan's team during the last city council. It was felt that it would take too long to get all cities in the region on-board, so it was better to start the party without the hold-outs and invite only the largest players – Vancouver, Surrey and Richmond. MVC partner communities now include those three cities, plus the 2 North Vancouvers, the cities of Port Moody, New Westminster, Coquitlam and the District of Maple Ridge.

MVC's release states:

Metro Vancouver Commerce (MVC) is the leading group of economic and business development professionals in the region. Its purpose is to implement collaborative economic planning and development on a regional basis – recognizing that many economic development activities can be done more effectively, and more efficiently, on a regional basis.

The VEDC's report starts off as a compendium of facts and figures, as well as an analysis of Vancouver's strengths and weaknesses as an urban economy. Much of the research has been underway over the past several months, as listed on this page describing workshops with up and coming business leaders. As we mentioned earlier, Vision Vancouver when in opposition voted together against further funding for the VEDC. Of course, now that they are in government, they're playing a different tune.

Then Coun. Peter Ladner pushed for expanded support of the VEDC, and council adopted a set of "guiding principles" for economic growth back in the summer of 2006. The VEDC's full report has been a long time coming, in other words. It's not clear whether Gregor Robertson's dream of being the greenest city has factored in the tardiness, but the references to GCAT's work have a feeling of being tacked onto the report as an afterthought.

Here's a summary of some of the VEDC's long awaited proposals:

  • The VEDC wishes to task themselves with advocating for a region-wide economic strategy, and maintaining a key role with the aforementioned MVC;
  • The VEDC will work to reduce regulatory burden upon businesses, regularly reporting back on their progress;
  • The VEDC will work through industry associations to link financial, research, government and other resources;
  • A so-called high profile green industry project will be developed on the False Creek Flats in partnership with educational institutions as a symbol of Vancouver's commitment to being the greenest somethingorother;
  • The VEDC will use the 2010 Games to promote Metro Vancouver Commerce (see above);
  • The City will make itself more attractive for international talent by increasing the availability of family housing and child care availability, and providing more entertainment options for young professionals;
  • The VEDC recommends that it expands its own policy-related research in partnership with stakeholders;
  • The VEDC will work with City staff to build better engagement with senior levels of government to align the goals of both;
  • The VEDC will step up its own communications about economic development in partnership with other stakeholders, to educate the public about economic challenges and opportunities;
  • Finally, the VEDC requests a significant increase in its own budget, currently set by the City at $2M annually. The VEDC argues that other smaller jurisdictions spend more on economic development, and that the Province and business groups could match the City's contribution.

Most of what is put forward by the VEDC sounds doable, and would not stir much controversy. We've already commented on the green component in our Vancouver Sun Op/Ed, which we consider well-meaning but vague. Item six, which proposes the City get more directly involved in the creation of affordable housing and child care will no doubt raise the most eyebrows.

The VEDC is seeking approval from Council to study the topic of property taxation and development cost levies in the search for a more "progressive" approach. The report points out that much of the new housing being built in the city is far too small to raise a family, suggesting that at least 2 bedrooms and 1100 square feet is a baseline for family living. The VEDC proposes that the City significantly increases its density to help drive down housing prices.

Any study commissioned by council should consider that DCLs, which are used to fund neighbourhood infrastructure, but instead perhaps property taxes should pay for this infrastructure instead. DCLs require new buyers, who are by-in-large younger and who have less means.

Property taxes, the report states, are seen as regressive in a city with highly diverse economic classes like Vancouver. Any study commissioned by council, they say, should consider whether residential property tax could be made more progressive by charging higher taxes on properties with a higher value.

The VEDC suggest that while child care is seen as the responsibility of senior levels of government, cities should try to expand their own commitment to improve the city's economic future.

A timely side note of this recommendation is the viability of "entertainment" in Vancouver. The paper describes the deep dissatisfaction with Vancouver's approach to liquor establishments and restaurants. As we saw earlier this week, Vision Vancouver came within an inch of making this situation worse with their ill-considered restaurant booze bylaw.

No doubt when this report hits the streets it will get tongues wagging. It's definitely a different direction for the city, and we can thank councils past and present for pushing for these recommendations.

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