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Budget angst hitting cities across the land as taxes go up to pay for things other governments skipping

December 5th, 2019 · No Comments

Budget and property-tax-increase time is never a fun period in the year.

But it’s feeling especially fraught this year, as there are big debates and objections and announcements about big new hikes in various cities. It seems to me that it’s all a product of the secret burden cities have been carrying for years, where they are being left to absorb the financial cost of many social issues that the provinces and federal government used to be responsible for. Housing, especially, but all kinds of other issues, including mental health, drug addiction, immigrations, transit support and more.

Vancouverites are setting their hair on fire over a proposed 9.3-per-cent increase, which would come on top of 4.5 per cent last year. My story here and various takes here, here, and here. (The CBC story says it’s the biggest in a decade but City Hall Granny here, aka me, has been covering budgets for 25 years and I don’t recall one that high in all that time.)

You’ll notice that in the last of these, a former city employee, is about how the tax hikes are related to how much the city is now spending to try to create affordable housing. Yes, people, been saying this for years, that, as much as many support the construction of new affordable housing, it is putting a huge load on cities, which have nothing but property taxes to pay for it.

Opinionators everywhere are weighing in on whether Vancouver property taxes are higher than other cities, lower than other cities, or what.

Toronto is about to go through the same, as conservative-leaning Mayor John Tory, after resisting the idea for years, has now come out proposing big tax increases to pay for more housing and transit.

Calgary is having its own struggles over property-tax increases after giving a big chunk of money for a stadium and now having to deal with the predictable backlash as taxes rise for basic services.

And, in Surrey, it’s kind of a reverse problem, where longtime zero-tax-increase advocate Mayor Doug McCallum and his remaining band of supporting councillors have passed a very tight budget, with only a 2.9-per-cent increase, which means no new police or firefighters and a restricted menu of community-service improvements. That is producing its own community backlash.



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