Editor’s note: Today’s editorial originally appeared in The Columbian. Editorial content from other publications and authors is provided to give readers a sampling of regional and national opinion and does not necessarily reflect positions endorsed by the Editorial Board of The Daily News.
They’re right about a couple things: “This is a big ask. It’s a hard conversation, but I think it’s an important one.”
That is a quote from Tim Schauer, a member of the Executive Sponsors Council for A Stronger Vancouver. The group, tasked with assessing the city of Vancouver’s long-term financial health, has provided a recommendation to city leaders. In the process, it has, indeed, come up with a big ask that will result in a hard conversation.
The bottom line, according to the group: The city needs to collect an additional $30.1 million annually in taxes.
We’ll give you a moment until you are done choking on your Cheerios ...
Ready? Presented last week to the city council, the recommendations call for an additional $9.7 million in property taxes, $9.7 million from business taxes, and $10.7 million from miscellaneous taxes and fees. This is just a starting point; the council will consider the recommendations before moving forward and possibly presenting them to the public.
As a reference point, the city’s adopted budget for 2019-20 is $1.2 billion — about $600 million a year. An additional $30.1 million annually would be an increase of 5 percent, on top of possible new revenue from increased development and existing taxes. Or we can look at it this way: $30.1 million would be $172 per resident, although some taxes (such as a business and occupation tax on gross sales or an admissions tax on tickets) would also be funded by visitors to the city.
In devising the proposal, committee members say, they attempted to balance the burden between business owners and individuals. That includes a plan to reinstate Vancouver’s B&O tax, which hasn’t been levied at the city level since 2002, and an increase to the head tax on employees. It also would include a boost to the city property tax, which would require voter approval.
“We knew that investments were being made throughout the community, but maybe they weren’t always equitable,” committee member Jennifer Rhoads said about previous attempts to raise revenue.
Taxpayers should consider several factors in assessing the preliminary proposal. One is that residents should be in agreement that we desire a well-functioning city that provides many amenities. Adequate police and fire protection, well-maintained and abundant parks, services for homeless people, and infrastructure that invites investment are essential to keeping Vancouver a desirable place to live. The city has grown rapidly over the past decade, and such growth puts pressure on city services.
Another factor is that such amenities cost money. The city reduced staff by 110 employees during the Great Recession, reducing officials’ ability to provide necessary services. Casey Wyckoff of Stronger Vancouver told city councilors, “Looking back at the last decade, we see unprecedented growth and a rate of change that outpaces the city’s resources.” Before writing a letter to the editor decrying the condition of the neighborhood park, citizens should ponder their willingness to pay for maintenance.
In considering an eye-catching increase to a variety of taxes, city officials must focus on the public-relations aspect of the issue. They must convince taxpayers of the need to increase revenue, the benefits that will result, and the city’s ability to spend additional money in an effective, responsible way.
That will be a hard sell, because $30.1 million a year in additional taxes is a big ask. It’s time for the hard conversations to begin.