Metro Vancouver's 5.8% tax increase is shameful

Post by Mike Klassen in

6 comments

tea-time?
Mildred just learned about Metro's $50 tax increase...and wants a tea party

There's been a lot of ink poured over the outcomes of the Toronto and Calgary elections. Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, in the eyes of writers such as Eric Mang is the very embodiment of an irrational uprising. Or if you'd like, a Canadian representative of the Tea Party.

The Courier's Allen Garr shrugs off concerns that the changes sweeping across other Canadian cities will impact Vision Vancouver. He says, "as long as Robertson keeps the noise about backyard chickens, bike lanes and municipal office renovations to a dull roar, I wouldn't expect we'll see a Calgary or a Toronto here."

Even journalist and fellow blogger Frances Bula seems to suggest that the door is shut on a meat-eating conservative becoming Vancouver's mayor. But the Globe and Mail's Gary Mason is so far the only contrarian. "Think Rob Ford couldn't happen in a place like Vancouver?" asks Mason. "Think again."

Today's decision by the Metro Vancouver board of directors, and the failure of the Vision Vancouver representatives may have planted the seed for a Ford-like ascendancy of a cost-cutting candidate for this city's top job. The board voted to jack up regional spending 5.8 per cent to $603 million, adding 24 more full-time staff.

This week the Vancouver Sun editorial board lashed out at Gregor Robertson and Vision for their seeming inability to address the cost of running Vancouver. They make a smart suggestion about hiring a Director of Budget Sustainability. The cost of municipal government – where salaries and benefits use the vast majority of budgets – is out of control. The decision upon getting elected by Vision Vancouver to remove the City from the Metro Vancouver Labour Relations Bargaining Unit, will inevitably result in "whipsawing" between jurisdictions over the cost of labour settlements. Just ask CUPE.

If you own an average property valued at $600,000, thanks to the decision by today's Metro Vancouver board you're looking at a $44 annual increase. Vancouver single-family homes bottom out around $1,000,000 today, regardless of what you paid for it. You're on the hook for over $700 worth of taxes for Metro.

Some directors, such as Pitt Meadows Mayor Don MacLean rejected MV's extravagences. As Early Edition's Rick Cluff tweeted out, there are 50 communications staff for example! The Surrey Leader's Jeff Nagel has written the most comprehensive report so far on the board's decision, and he caught MacLean in an honest moment:

"There are so many stupid things in there when you add them all together they add up to real money," said Pitt Meadows Mayor Don MacLean, listing spending on a web-based regional arts and culture calendar and drinking water wagons to try to reduce bottled water use.

MacLean also criticizes proposed spending of $295,000 next year on international travel, including a water conference in Dubai. "We have the best water in the world and we're off to Dubai to learn more?" he asked.

The group sent out to Metro Vancouver to represent the City of Vancouver continue to embarrass themselves with last minute motions drafted for cheap politics.

The Vancouver reps proposed an amendment measure that would have saved just 70 cents per household. There's no love lost between senior board member Mayor Derek Corrigan of Burnaby.

...Corrigan, who voted for the budget and against Vancouver's effort at modest cost control, said it was too late in the budget process to perform major surgery. He accused Vancouver councillors – who hold influential positions on the finance, water and waste committees – of repeatedly pressing Metro to spend more on priorities that fit their green agenda without consideration of the ultimate costs.

"Now that they've seen the final numbers, they've got buyer's remorse," Corrigan said. "I consistently voted against stuff all year, saying it's going to cost us a lot of money."

Surrey City Councillor Linda Hepner is pushing for a review of expenditures.

"The taxpayer is getting squeezed from all directions," she said. "Honestly, I think we have to look at doing some of the work within existing resources."

All of these additional costs are on top of increases in civic taxes (look for 3% at a minimum in Vancouver for residences) and a possible Translink levy. It is possible that these increases might elect a new administration in a city like Vancouver who will look hard at reigning in costs.

Writers like Garr might be suggesting to his friends in Vision, don't worry, go ahead and spend, you'll get re-elected. But that's advice I wouldn't be taking these days.

METRO AVERAGE 2011 COST PER HOME (based on $600,000 home)

  • Regional taxes – $39 (up $2)
  • Sewage fees – $170 (up $8)
  • Garbage disposal – $91 (up $11)
  • Water rates – $213 (up $23)

TOTAL: $513 (up $44)

- post by Mike

6 Comments

I feel like an idiot commenting on this piece. I know so little about this other level of government. I'm actually finding it a fair bit of effort to keep up with each bureaucracy in order to find out about, let alone monitor, all the issues I think are important. How did we get so many layers?

In terms of your article, I did have a look at Metro Vans website and I'm reasonably sure that the water, the sewage, and the garbage are important and infrastructure maintenance and regulated improvements make sense in those areas. In the absence of looking at capital plans, I think I'm on board with these expenses.

I think the regional parks are important too, but doesn't the province already have a system for looking after parks? Why are we replicating this service? And I don't get why Metro has to send a letter to UBC about some deadline referencing Pacific Spirit; can't the CoV handle that and report back to Metro? Unless I don't get something, isn't UBC in Vancouver?

I think I support the notion too that it is nice to have coordination between all the municipalities on major planning issues. But I'm starting to think that at this price we can't actually afford the complete range of service this board seems to want to provide. When do we get to tell them that we don't want to purchase everything on their menu?

For example, given a choice, I am happy that a couple of non-profits get some $$ from this crowd, but the international travel budget is a travesty in my mind. Couldn't municipalities coordinate some of the travel they already take to get answers to whatever questions arise that require international travel to answer? We have a couple of pretty good universities and plenty of colleges that we already fund and that have smart people working in them that likely already know something of what goes on elsewhere in the world. Maybe the municipalities could call on them to answer whatever these important questions are.

Well, I think you probably get my meaning.

Why does this feel like taxation without representation to me? Metro can raise taxes that I'm going to pay. Depending upon where I live I'll have just a handful of people I actually get to vote for making this decision to spend my money.

Anyone else feel like there's an accountability gap?

Pacific Spirit Park is not a Vancouver park, but a regional district or 'Metro' park. UBC is not part of Vancouver (it is part of electoral district A along with Barnston island and a couple of smaller bits around the region) but is a member of Metro.

I would agree that sewers, water, regional parkland, and infrastructure are important. Like Vancouver's, Metro's infrastructure is ageing and has to be upgraded or replaced. Taxes in the region and the local municipalities are going to have to increase if we want to keep our services.

However, there are plenty of areas to look at in Metro for wasting dollars (starting with the communications department). That is where we should focus our attention.

Sorry Mike, no tea served until election time

Fripp, I have to agree especially when I read the bit about Vancouver VISION councillors holding influential positions in "finance" of all places. Vancouver can vote in Vision with all their free spending "end homelessness (the Mayor is so whacked he believes the City spends HUNDREDS of millions on social housing - obviously he was not the CFO at Happy Planet), back yard chickens, homeless chickens (don't forget the tens of thousands they spent on this - including modifications to the animal shelter and the creation of a 'chicken bill of rights') and slapping down millions without consultation to create all those bike lanes BUT why does the entire region have to join the VISION ride?
There is something broken here.

Thanks for the education, Stuart, I'm in need of a civics class. That notwithstanding, I agree with focusing attention on questionable budget items, but how does one do that? Through one's own City Council or....?

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