Vancouver council approves police, fire budget increases, despite public opposition

Vancouver City Council voted to increase property taxes to accommodate budget increases for the city’s police and fire departments on Tuesday.

In a report published on Nov. 8, recommendations were made to council to increase the budgets of the Vancouver Police Department and Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services Department (VFRS).

A total budget increase of more than $6 million was requested for the Vancouver Police Department to accommodate ongoing fringe benefit adjustments and a one-time investment to relieve cost pressures.

Similarly, a budget increase of just less than $6 million was requested to accommodate comparable changes in the VFRS’ budget.

While the ongoing fringe benefit budget adjustments have already been allotted for in the city’s 2023 budget, the one-time adjustments being requested are to relieve specific budget pressures that have come to light in 2023.

The report states that normally, these one-time budget pressures would be dealt with from within these department’s own budgets. However, if the pressure is “significant enough that it can not be fully managed within the existing budget and would result in a deficit for the budget year that is greater than $750,000,” policy dictates a budget amendment be requested from council.

Budget pressures being felt by the VPD stem from the deployment for Hasting St. encampments and increasing frequency of protests in the city, the report states.

For the VFRS, the report also adds that the money is needed to help maintain operational staffing levels, since staff are currently stretched thin due to injury claims, sick leaves, and reduced cost recoveries related to absences.

Since there’s no contingency funds set aside to manage these one-time allocations of funds, the almost $7 million request by the VPD and VFRS combined would come out of the city’s reserves. To replenish the reserve, an increase in Vancouver residents’ property taxes would be required.

Strong showing of public opposition

In council chambers on Tuesday, at least 14 speakers from the public who presented to city council on the issue were in opposition of the budget increases, largely referencing the VPD budget in their speeches.

Speaker jaye simpson, a Vancouver resident and Two-Spirit Oji-Cree person from Sapotaweyak First Nation, said they’re opposed to the budget increases.

“This council should be funding housing and harm reduction programs to end the thousands of preventable toxic drug deaths occurring throughout this province annually,” simpson said. “Instead, you are choosing to finance the humiliation, displacement and robbery of the city’s unhoused residents.”

Diana Donaldson also stood in front of council Tuesday to relay her passionate opposition to the budget increases.

“Where I would prefer for my tax dollars to go is affordable housing is social housing,” Donaldson said. “The only (police-related budget increase) that I would like to see is for policing the investors and the development people in the city to ensure that they provide a minimum of 20 per cent of social and affordable housing.”

Following the public speakers, Councillors Adrienne Carr and Pete Fry took a moment to thank them for their heartfelt comments.

“They are raising concerns that I think we need to address at this council and and it’s within the context… of a much more polarized world in society with many more emerging issues,” Carr said.

However, Carr said she would be supporting this motion, partly because the ongoing fringe benefit adjustments are already accounted for in the budget, and partly because she believes in ensuring Vancouver Fire Services are properly staffed.

“I think this is worthy of discussion. I think the points raised were legitimate points raised by the speakers that we need to discuss as a council,” she said.

“But as I say, I do think that it’s something that I take, as a council member, onus for, in terms of needing to pursue, so I’m going to support the budget as is.”

All city councillors voted in favour, except for Councillor Pete Fry who abstained, and Councillor Christine Boyle who was absent.

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