A package that would have boosted Vancouver’s budget is now shelved indefinitely, as lack of revenue due to COVID-19 derailed a plan that’s been in the works since 2017.
The multifaceted package of new projects, services and taxes, called A Stronger Vancouver, was originally slated for city council approval in April. Any related measures requiring voter approval had been planned for the November ballot.
Neither action is likely to move forward this year, said City Manager Eric Holmes, and it’s realistic that the outbreak of the novel coronavirus will result in major changes to the package.
In the meantime, he added, it’s unlikely that city leaders will “be able to seriously take up that work in any way.”
“It’s shelved in the interim, but I don’t want to leave the impression … that it’s been put on the shelf and once we get through this we’re going to take it off the shelf and adopt it,” Holmes said, adding that substantial changes in the city’s economy and in the needs of its residents will need to be considered once the dust settles.
“No one knows what the economy will be like,” Holmes said.
What is A Stronger Vancouver?
A Stronger Vancouver is a wide-ranging package composed of proposed capital projects and new or enhanced services. It includes new parks and fire stations, enhanced homelessness response services and a revived public art program.
A combination of new taxes and fees would pay for it. Proposed revenue sources included an online sales tax, an increase to the business license surcharge and an uptick in utility rates, along with a handful of other miscellaneous sources.
The largest piece of the puzzle, a property tax levy, would require voter approval.
When the package was unveiled to the city council in April 2019 — the outcome of two years’ worth of deliberations among a 10-member volunteer committee — it carried an annual price tag of $30.1 million.
Over the last year, city council had shaved down some elements of A Stronger Vancouver, cutting back on the number of new public parks and slashing a proposed business and occupation tax from the list of potential revenue sources.
A more modest version of the package, the subject of deliberations by the council in late 2019, would require about $23.5 million in new revenue per year.
Across the country, cities, counties and states are anticipating massive budget deficits as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak. Vancouver is no exception.
The city is budgeting for at least $30 million and potentially up to $60 million in lost revenue this year.
The deepest hole is linked to uncollected sales taxes — with businesses closed, customers aren’t buying as much as they usually would right now, and the city can’t collect revenue from transactions that aren’t happening.
In April, Natasha Ramras, Vancouver’s chief financial officer, stressed that the unpredictable nature of the coronavirus outbreak makes the city’s economic future hard to predict.
“Until we have a little more information, we don’t yet know what, truly, the final impact will be,” Ramras said.