'Poisoned chalice': Property tax hikes possible if no help with Vancouver deficit, mayor warns
VANCOUVER -- The mayor of Vancouver says steep property tax hikes could be in the city's future without financial aid from the federal and provincial governments.
Kennedy Stewart provided an update on four key areas of Vancouver's efforts to curb COVID-19 in the city on Wednesday.
Speaking at an afternoon news conference, Stewart reiterated his priorities:
- City-wide compliance with health orders;
- Support for vulnerable communities, including the Downtown Eastside;
- City government's financial health;
- and Vancouver's post-COVID economic recovery.
1-in-5 workers laid off
Stewart was previously criticized for warning that the pandemic's economic impact could result in job cuts, which may impact Vancouver's fire and police departments.
He said he's aware Vancouver isn't the only city facing these challenges, and said nearly one-in-five civic workers have been laid off for the time being.
"These are real people who provide the services that make our city the great place it is, and it breaks my heart to have to do this," he said.
Among those affected are library, youth, child-care, community centre and parks workers, he said.
As he has during previous addresses, Stewart criticized the federal and provincial governments for failing to offer financial aid to cities.
Stewart acknowledged the province is allowing cities to borrow money, but said Vancouver's deficit will be massive. He said the amount of money owed will be enough that it will not be recovered without measures such as "large" property tax hikes in future years. The city would also have to consider what he described as "deep" service cuts.
"This is a poisoned chalice for which I categorically reject," he said.
"This is not a viable solution to the serious financial challenges cities are facing."
More parking tickets possible
Overall, he said he's pleased with how the city is co-operating with public health guidelines including physical distancing, but said an outbreak at a local chicken processing plant shows there's still a risk if there's a lapse.
Stewart said the city's streets are getting busier, and that street parking is often full.
The city decided last month to cease much of its parking enforcement, but has brought ticketing back to some neighbourhoods after noticing crowds at local parks and beaches.
On Wednesday, the mayor said the pause in parking enforcement was meant to help health-care workers, not to encourage people to drive more.
He said the city will start enforcing paid parking in more areas if drivers don't respect the rules.
When it comes to the Downtown Eastside, Stewart said an announcement is expected this week from Minister of Social Development Shane Simpson regarding a provincial action plan.
Advocates have been critical of the response thus far, saying the pandemic highlights a need for safe housing options.
The growth of tent cities is often the result of homeless residents feeling unsafe about their living conditions, one advocate said.
Tim Richter, president of the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness, told The Canadian Press those populations often have different health risk factors than others, including underlying respiratory conditions and poor health.
Stewart Wednesday put it on the province to address access to housing and safe shelter, saying he hoped those issues would be addressed in Simpson's plan.
He said the city has taken its own actions, including expanded access to sanitation, supplying meals and supplementing income.
Looking ahead, Stewart said the city is looking at ways to get residents back to work as soon as possible.
However, when it came to what that might look like, the mayor did not elaborate.
He said in the coming weeks he'd make public his plan to gather a group of leaders and workers to "plot a path forward."
Stewart said he's also been asked to join a federal recovery team, and would join B.C.'s if asked by the premier.
The mayor said he's been hosting virtual round tables, and again said he'll need help from higher levels of government.
With files from The Canadian Press