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City of Vancouver asks province for $200 million in emergency funding

Citynews 1130 Vancouver

Last Updated Apr 8, 2020 at 8:13 pm PDT

Summary

Mayor Kennedy Stewart said the city is losing millions of dollars a week due to a lack of revenue

The city will not be cancelling property tax payments, but rather look to postpone them

So far 15,000 businesses in Vancouver have temporarily closed due to the pandemic

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — The City of Vancouver asked the provincial government on Wednesday for $200 million in emergency funding to help maintain essential services and continue to support vulnerable residents during the pandemic.

Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart said the city is losing millions of dollars a week due to a lack of revenue.

He added the city will not be cancelling property tax payments, but rather look to postpone them, as Port Coquitam has done, and called on the province again to expand the B.C. property tax deferment program.

The Vancouver 2020 municipal budget, approved in December, featured a property tax increase of seven per cent.

Under the current program, the province provides applicants, such as seniors, with low-interest loans while providing municipalities with direct funds to cover deferred property taxes.

“We need this program expanded to include all residents, businesses and non-profit agencies experiencing financial hardship,” Stewart said.

“And I don’t need to point out that most non-profits operate on a shoestring budget, so a shock like COVID-19 could be a death sentence unless we act now.”

He also asked the province to delay remittance of non-city property tax items that it collects on behalf of others until the payments are received by taxpayers.

“This includes provincial school taxes, TransLink fees, and Metro Vancouver fees that we cannot afford to finance on our own,” Stewart added.

If the city doesn’t receive emergency funding, he said council could consider increasing property taxes further or reducing staff and services. The latter could include long-term closure of some municipal facilities, or cutting community grants, he added.

If everything returns to normal in May, he said Vancouver would have a $61 million budget deficit and affect property taxes.

Stewart said if current health-and-safety restrictions extend to Aug. 31, the city would lose $111 million, requiring an additional property tax increase of 14 per cent to make up for that revenue.

In a worst-case scenario, with restrictions continuing until the end of December, Stewart said the city would lose $189 million, requiring an additional tax increase of 24 per cent.

“Now these property tax increases are an example and, of course, they’re impossible to contemplate, leading instead to service reductions, staff layoffs and other measures, including impacts on essential services, such as police and fire, which are funded by property tax without provincial help,” he added,

According to a city report looking at the financial impacts of COVID-19, so far 15,000 businesses have temporarily closed.

The director of finance is suggesting the city push back the due date for property taxes from July 3 to Sept. 2. The report also recommends asking the province to expand the Property Tax Deferment Program to include homeowners, businesses, and non-profit groups.

Council is to review the report at its next meeting, April 14.

Regarding vulnerable citizens, Stewart said Vancouver Coastal Health is conducting COVID-19 testing on the Downtown Eastside and there have been no positive results. However, he added, 16 people have died from drug overdoses in that area over the past two weeks.

Vancouver already issued temporary layoff notices to 1,500 staff. It also declared a state of emergency due to COVID-19. The city closed most all municipal and recreational facilities, as well as placed restrictions on many non-essential businesses. Furthermore, Stanley Park was closed to vehicle traffic on Wednesday.