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Vancouver budget task force to review city’s finances

The City of Vancouver says it’s establishing a Mayor’s Budget Task Force aimed at going through spending “with a fine-tooth comb.”

Mayor Ken Sim says the goal of the task force will be to “identify inefficiencies, potential revenue opportunities, and recommending ways that we can utilize your tax dollars more efficiently and responsibly.”

The task force will conduct its review over a six-month period, after which time a report will be created and submitted to council outlining recommendations. It will not look at the Vancouver Park Board, Vancouver Police Department (VPD), or the Vancouver Public Library, according to the city.

The omission of the VPD is despite the force making up the largest part of the city’s budget spending, with Vancouver on its path to hiring 100 additional police officers.

The team will consist of what Sim calls “highly skilled, highly experienced individuals, including CPAs and CFAs with “decades of experience in finance.” It is being led by Randy Pratt, the president of Nampa Enterprises.

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“These actionable recommendations will empower City Hall to make better decisions on the city’s finances, services, and infrastructure, while also noting the opportunities and challenges for consideration in future budget deliberations,” Sim told reporters at a news conference Monday.

“It was critically important that this work be carried out by highly skilled, highly experienced individuals.”

In addition to Pratt, the city says other members of the team include Calvin Buss, Tom Chambers, Vincent Lok, and Lisa Stewart.

Sim says the members of the task force have all volunteered their time “to bring a new, unique perspective to our city’s finances.”

They are expected to work alongside several stakeholders, who will participate as “advisors,” Sim added, to provide “valuable perspectives from their years in experience and government.”

These stakeholders include Bridgette Anderson, the president and CEO of the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade, former Musqueam band member Wade Grant, former Vancouver MLA Joy McPhail, Ken Bain, who has worked with the City of Vancouver in finance and planning, as well as councillor representatives Lenny Zhou and Brian Montague.

The task force comes after Vancouver city council passed its nearly $2 billion budget, which includes a 10.7 per cent property tax increase.

Sim admits that kind of an increase isn’t sustainable, adding such moves “can’t become the norm.”

‘Cuts won’t bring our swagger back’: Councillor 

In a statement released Monday, Coun. Christine Boyle says she agrees that the city is in “dire financial straits” but wants to see the scope of the task force expanded.

“Specifically: I think the scope should rule out cuts to frontline services, and look at ways to generate revenue to improve them,” she said.

Boyle believes the task force should include a review of recent infrastructure decisions by the Vancouver Park Board, namely the decision to remove the Stanley Park bike lanes for $70 million.

“We also need to look at the revenue side. If we were to build much more housing in this city, our revenues would soar,” she said. “Why is that not being considered I want the Scope of Work to include revenue projections if we were to end the apartment ban, and legalize apartment buildings everywhere in Vancouver.”

Boyle says it’s a missed opportunity to see if the city’s recent investment into public safety “truly perform,” adding that it should directly look at the investments made into the VPD. “If they’re working, great. If not, we need to look at other approaches.”

“Cuts won’t bring our swagger back. We need investment,” she said.

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