Originally published in the Globe and Mail on January 30, 2020
One of the top issues in the recent federal election was affordability. Canadians across the country expressed concern about rising costs of living, from food to housing.
So how is it, in the face of an affordability crisis, that the city of Vancouver increased property taxes to the highest level in recent memory? The answer lies in a false urgency.
In time for Christmas break, our city council rushed a vote to approve its 2020 operating budget to the chagrin of many members of council, including myself. I said from the beginning of the budget process that the recommended property tax increase was too high, and I ultimately voted against the final 7-per-cent increase.
The councillors in our Non-Partisan Association (NPA) caucus put forward a pragmatic motion to have staff further review fixed costs, explore reducing department budgets by 5 per cent, and report back in the new year with a revised budget.
Disappointingly, this motion wasn’t supported by the council majority.
Lost on everyone, it seems, is the fact that the budget does not need to be approved until April in the following year. The provincial government operates with interim supply until the final budget is approved, often a few months after the start of the fiscal year. I think it is fair to say that the 2020 city budget was rammed through without proper due diligence.
So, where are your tax dollars going?
Well, 3.5 per cent of the property tax increase is represented by “fixed costs” – which includes expenditures such as rents, leases, insurance, utilities, and wages and benefits for pending collective agreements. However, we later learned that some of these line items involved discretionary spending and unfilled job vacancies that could have helped reduce the tax by more than one percentage point. I believe we could have found more savings in this area.
The proposed $110-million in increased spending also included funding proposals to address a range of service gaps and new initiatives, such as public safety, the Vancouver Plan and climate initiatives. There is no doubt councillors hold varying views on what should be highest priority among these initiatives and the myriad of existing city services.
And while we may disagree on priorities, there were surely more savings to be found. Asking staff to take a further look for them was a matter of exercising good governance and transparency.
The city of Vancouver faces increased costs just as businesses and homeowners do. However, as stewards of the public purse, we need to work harder to innovate and pursue partnerships to make efficient use of public funds. This is something that was absent from the conversation.
The city’s 2020 budget document stated that cost pressures will continue for the next 10 years, making it “difficult to balance the budget with a reasonable level of tax and fee increases.” The report also proposed to find future opportunities to “offset the city’s increased cost structure and continued cost pressures.”
We need to turn this on its head and challenge the cost structure and service delivery itself. The city’s own budget document tells us the current structure and path is not sustainable.
In 2015, the city of Vancouver financial outlook foreshadowed that increased costs related to first responders would put significant pressure on the city’s budget. “These cost increases would need to be offset by increased revenues through fees or property tax, or by reduced expenditures or staffing levels,” claimed the report by staff.
In the following year, the city’s financial outlook anticipated the “potential for a significant gap between the growth in expenses and the growth in revenues.”
In other words, the warning signs have been there for years.
Yet, since that time the number of full-time equivalents staff has increased by nearly 1,000. The previous council was repeatedly warned that costs were rising faster than inflation and that corrective measures such as process improvements, information technology transformation and review of service delivery models were necessary to address “higher costs of labour, facilities and operations.”
So, as someone who was elected to make sure our government finances are sustainable, I have to ask: Why are we failing to heed the warnings of staff for half a decade or more?
Canadians expect dependable and affordable government services without overburdening them with high taxes. Vancouver City Council has a duty to make that happen.
VANCOUVER – NPA City Council Candidate Lisa Dominato announced today that if elected she will call for the establishment of a voluntary registry of home owners willing to rent their basement suites, laneways, condos and homes at below market rent in exchange for a modest reduction in property taxes and to encourage a home share model that would benefit students and seniors.
The goal of the registry would be to create a network of rental stock that is offered below market to help university students, young professionals, families saving for a mortgage and seniors on fixed incomes. The approach can be best characterized as property philanthropy and would be completely voluntary on the part of home owners. In exchange, property owners would receive a modest reduction in property tax to acknowledge being part of the community solution.
“Housing affordability is a community issue and it requires pragmatic, grassroots solutions that brings people together. I believe we need to put all options on the table for creating affordable and attainable housing.” said Dominato. “One viable option is to encourage home owners who may be in a secure financial position to help others who are struggling to access affordable, long-term housing.”
Melbourne, Australia has a coordinated network of landlords offering below market rent to help address homelessness. As a result, families on the brink of homelessness have found affordable, secure housing at 20% less than market rate.
Dominato is also proposing that Vancouver enable home sharing between seniors wanting to remain in their homes and cash-strapped university students. The concept involves home owners, usually seniors, renting rooms at reduced rent in exchange for help with chores, errands and general companionship. A number of cities are piloting this model and have developed a matching system to connect seniors and young students or professionals.
The City of Toronto is currently piloting a program to match seniors with students, as are number of other jurisdictions.
“There’s a dual benefit to this approach as it addresses housing affordability and caring for an aging population, two key priorities in the NPA platform.” said Dominato. “It’s also an approach that provides immediate solutions because it taps into existing housing supply instead of waiting for new supply to be built.”
According to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, housing is considered affordable when it is less than 30% of a person’s before tax income; however, for lower income earners, many rental properties do not fit within this range. A discount on market rent can make a big difference to a low-income individual or family.
Lisa Dominato is a School Board Trustee and current candidate for Vancouver City Council; the immediate Past Chair of the Vancouver Kettle Society; and Board Director, National Institute for Child and Youth Mental Health (FamilySmart™).
Lisa Dominato: 778-980-4422
NPA School Trustee Lisa Dominato Successfully Leads New Governance Model for Vancouver School Board
VANCOUVER – The Vancouver School Board has adopted a new governance model and policies flowing from a motion put forward by NPA Trustee Lisa Dominato. The new framework ensures the Board is serving in the best interest of students, parents and educators.
The new governance model, passed at Tuesday’s board meeting, establishes best practices for Board governance, including clarification of the roles and responsibilities of trustees, and distinguishes them from those of senior district management. It also provides a new Board Policy Handbook to modernize existing policies and an Administrative Procedures Manual.
“This marks the first comprehensive review of the Board’s policies and procedures in nearly two decades and will ensure Trustees are held to fulfil their legal duties to students, parents and staff,” said Dominato. “Numerous reports pointed to the need to overhaul the District’s governance framework. I want to thank the current trustees and staff who supported this motion for their diligent oversight of this important work.”
In developing both the new Board Policy Handbook and Administrative Procedures Manual, careful review and consideration was given to current policies, policy regulations, and bylaws. Stakeholder sessions also provided essential input to form the basis for work to update and modernize procedures. The Board will continue to collaborate with stakeholders on this important work.
“This work provides a solid foundation for our District to continue to serve Vancouver students,” said NPA Trustee Fraser Ballantyne. “I want commend the staff and trustees for their hard work to see this important work through without further delay.”
The motion is the second significant policy implemented by Trustee Dominato this month. Last week, the Board adopted livestreaming to improve Board accountability, transparency, and engagement for students and parents.
Dominato is a School Board Trustee and current candidate for Vancouver City Council; the immediate Past Chair of the Vancouver Kettle Society; and Board Director, National Institute for Child and Youth Mental Health (FamilySmart™).
Lisa Dominato: 778-980-4422
Originally posted on News 1130 – Story By Marcella Bernardo
VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – Vancouver’s school board is making it easier for parents, students and staff to virtually monitor public meetings.
NPA trustee Lisa Dominato says starting in November, those meetings will be live streamed.
“The City of Vancouver has had live streaming and broadcasting of meetings for a number of years now. The Park Board adopted live streaming in 2015. I think it’s time. I heard from parents and other educators that they want the opportunity to be engaged, so I think it increases transparency and accountability.”
She adds this provides many parents who wish they could attend meetings in person much more flexibility.
“Especially when we’re talking about low-engagement, in terms of voter turnout for elections. I think this is another way of supporting our democratic process with engaging the public in our decision-making.”
Dominato, who is seeking a seat on Vancouver city council in the October 20th civic election, says a recording of each meeting will also be available for up to 180 days after the live broadcast.
She says there are no additional or ongoing costs for software, but some money has been spent on video and audio equipment needed to make the board and committee rooms ready for live streaming.
Motion: Enhancing Arts Education in Vancouver Schools
Be it resolved:
That the Board direct staff to explore the possibility of partnering with the City of Vancouver in the creation of a “Materials for the Arts” program, with the goal of enhancing arts education within Vancouver schools, while enabling creative reuse of materials and diverting them from landfills and City waste streams.
The City of Vancouver is exploring the possibility of creating a “Materials for the Arts” (MFTA) program, modelled after New York City’s successful creative reuse centre, which is dedicated to supporting arts and cultural organizations, including more than 90% of New York public schools.
New York’s MFTA diverts over 1 million pounds of materials from the landfill each year by collecting reusable materials from businesses and individuals and making these donations available for free of charge to various arts, culture, non-profit, and educational organizations and individuals.
By diverting these materials from New York’s waste stream, MFTA reportedly offsets the equivalent of 25 times the CO2 emissions absorbed annually by the trees in New York’s Central Park.
New York’s MFTA program is operated by the City’s Department of Cultural Affairs, with additional support from the Departments of Education and Sanitation.
The Vancouver School Board’s (VSB) vision is to inspire student success by providing an innovative, caring and responsive learning environment.
The VSB strategic plan includes the following goals and objectives:
• Goal 1: Engage our learners through innovative teaching and learning practices.
• Support collaborative relationships with community partners that enhance student learning and well-being.
• Support effective communication, engagement and community partnerships.
• Implement the recommendations of the Sustainability Action Plan.
The VSB’s new Environmental Sustainability Plan includes specific goals to reduce consumption of resources and waste generation, as well as lead by example.
Research has shown that schools rich in the arts engage the whole student and promote higher levels of achievement.
Partnering with the City of Vancouver in the creation of a “Materials for the Arts” program aligns with the VSB’s vision of inspiring student success through the creation of an innovative and responsive learning environment and the VSB goals set out in the new Environment Sustainability Plan.
Partnering with the City of Vancouver could enable the VSB to save money by accessing free art materials for schools.
A collaboration of this nature is a win-win-win: educational, environmental and financial benefits.
For immediate release
July 31, 2018.
NPA School Board Trustee Lisa Dominato Statement on City Council Candidacy
VANCOUVER – Sitting NPA School Board Trustee Lisa Dominato issued the following statement today after being selected by the NPA Board to run for City Council.
“I want to thank my family, friends and supporters for urging me to put my name forward and for the opportunity to give back to the community.” said Dominato. “I have spent my entire career in public service and believe my track record of bringing people together to tackle complex public policy would be an asset on Council.”
“I’m committed to exploring ways to enhance the liveability of our city so that people of all ages can call Vancouver home today and in the future, and that we continue to be a compassionate city that takes care of its citizens struggling with housing, mental illness and addiction.”
In accepting her candidacy, Dominato committed to explore ways of addressing housing affordability and liveability by:
- Incenting home owners to voluntarily house an individual or family that is homeless.
- Incenting long-term home owners to offer affordable housing options to young people and middle-income families working toward getting into the market for the first time.
- Expediting building and development permits.
- Advocating vigorously for an expedited timeframe for implementation of ride sharing.
- Prioritizing public spaces, parks and community facilities for renewal, including integration of child care.
“I’m looking forward to working with Ken Sim and the NPA to develop a strong platform that will demonstrate a transparent and effective plan to make life easier for Vancouver citizens and people who want to live here.”
To learn more about Lisa Dominato go to: http://lisadominato.ca/about-lisa/
Dominato is the immediate Past Chair of the Vancouver Kettle Society, Board Director, National Institute for Child and Youth Mental Health (Family Smart) and sitting Vancouver School Board Trustee.
Lisa Dominato: 778-980-4422
“The Ministry of Education says it takes longer to get a school built in Vancouver than it does in other districts, and some members of the Vancouver School Board are hoping city hall will streamline that process by speeding up its approval of school development and building permits.
According to the Ministry of Education it takes about five years to get a school built in Vancouver. Of the five years, VSB staff and trustees report that it takes 12 months to approve a development permit for a new school and eight months to approve a building permit for a seismically safe replacement school.”
“A call is going out to help fast-track school upgrades and construction in Vancouver.
A Nexus-style approach to the approval process will be debated at Monday night’s Vancouver School Board meeting.
NPA trustee Lisa Dominato has tabled a motion to prioritize permits for reliable developers.”