Amending the City’s Municipal Election Year Operating Budget Policies and Principles

Submitted by: Councillor Dominato

WHEREAS

  1. The City of Vancouver is required by the Vancouver Charter, Library Act, and Police Act to produce a consolidated operating budget incorporating the separate internal budgets of the Board of Parks and Recreation, the Vancouver Public Library Board, and the Vancouver Police Board, and is required by Public Sector Accounting Standards to include the Vancouver Downtown Parking Corporation (aka EasyPark) in its consolidated financial statements;
  1. The City of Vancouver has a policy (Policy Number ADMIN-004: “Budgets – Operating”) which outlines the requirements for Operating Revenues and Expenditures, including authorization requirements. The policy applies to all Operating Revenues and Operating Expenditures undertaken by the City of Vancouver and is intended to supplement and provide operational clarity and promote best practices within the statutory requirements relating to budgeting as set out in the Vancouver Charter, Police Act, and Library Act;
  1. Section 219 (1) of the Vancouver Charter (“Director of Finance to report on revenue and expenditure”) states: “As soon as practicable in each year and in any event by April 30, the Director of Finance must prepare and submit to the Council a report setting out the Director of Finance’s estimates in detail of the anticipated revenues and expenditures of the city for that year.”;
  1. With respect to the requirement for the City to set an Operating Budget, Policy Number ADMIN-004 (“Budgets – Operating”) states, under section 2 (1.1), that “The Director of Finance is to present an Annual Operating Budget for the upcoming year as a report to Council in December of each year.” The policy further states that “On an exception basis, as determined by the Director of Finance, such as may occur in the year of a municipal election, an internal working budget will be developed by December of that year, and a budget will be adopted by Council no later than April 30th of the following year as required by section 219 of the Vancouver Charter.”;
  1. Additionally, Policy Number ADMIN-004 (“Budgets – Operating”) states, under section 2 (1.2), that “In any year in which the budget is not approved by Council before December 31st, Council may authorize expenditures as are necessary to carry on the business of the City until the budget is adopted, if the following conditions are met:
  • the amounts for that Budget Line Item does not exceed the amount for the Budget Line Item in the prior Annual Operating Budget, and
  • the expenditure is approved by at least two-thirds of City Council.”;
  1. There are clearly no statutory requirements relating to budgets, as set out in the Vancouver Charter, Police Act, or Library Act, that would necessitate the approval of a City of Vancouver Operating Budget in December of any year, including a municipal election year. An “internal working budget” can be developed by December of a municipal election year – or “In any year in which the budget is not approved by Council before December 31st” – and a final budget adopted by Council no later than April 30th of the following year, with Council empowered to authorize expenditures necessary to carry on the business of the City until the budget is adopted if the amounts for that Budget Line Item does not exceed the amount for the Budget Line Item in the prior year’s Operating Budget and the expenditure is approved by at least two-thirds of City Council;
  1. As a point of relevant comparison to the City of Vancouver’s budget policy, the section of the City of Toronto Act (CoTA) 2006 that pertains to Toronto’s “Yearly Budget” (i.e., section 228) includes an exception clause, namely subsection 228 (2), which states that “Despite subsection (1), a budget for a year immediately following a year in which a regular election is held may only be adopted in the year to which the budget applies.” [i]

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED THAT Policy Number ADMIN-004 (“Budgets – Operating”) Section 2 (POLICY STATEMENTS) be amended to better reflect the budget circumstances of a municipal election year and an incoming Council by striking subsection 1.1. under the heading “Requirement to set a budget” and replacing it with the following amended wording:

  • Section 1.1. “The Director of Finance is to present an Annual Operating Budget for the upcoming year as a report to Council in December of each year. In the year of a municipal election, an internal working budget will be developed by December of that year, and a budget will be adopted by Council in the year that it applies and no later than April 30th of that year as required by section 219 of the Vancouver Charter.”

AND FURTHER BE IT RESOLVED

  1. THAT Council direct staff to prepare a By-law for the consideration of Council to legally enshrine the intent of this motion, namely, that in the year of a municipal election an internal working budget is to be developed by December of that year and a final budget is to be adopted by Council in the year that it applies and no later than April 30th of that year, consistent with the requirements of section 219 of the Vancouver Charter, and
  1. THAT Council direct the Mayor to write to the Province to seek an amendment to the Vancouver Charter to enshrine a requirement on the part of the City to develop an internal working budget in the year of a municipal election (by December of that year) and a requirement for a final budget to be adopted by Council in the year to which the budget applies and no later than April 30th of that year.

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[i] Subsection 228 (1) of the City of Toronto Act (CoTA) 2006 states that “For each year, the City shall in the year or the immediately preceding year prepare and adopt a budget including estimates of all sums required during the year for the purposes of the City, including….”

Reconsideration of Council Decision: Responsible Alcohol Consumption in Public Spaces

Whereas:

On June 2, 2020 Council considered three resolutions to relax alcohol regulations in the context of the city’s COVID19 recovery:

1.      Unlicensed limited service food establishments

2.      Parks and beaches

3.      Public spaces such as civic plazas

Resolutions to enable alcohol consumption in unlicensed limited food service establishments and to endorse Park board in allowing alcohol consumption in parks and beaches were adopted by Council;

Considerations were raised with respect to public health and safety, equity, consultation and timing of additional pilots in public spaces such as civic plazas;

Further public feedback has shown support for piloting alcohol consumption in public spaces in a measured that supports small businesses, social connectedness, equity and physical distancing during the pandemic.

Therefore be it resolved:

That Council urgently reconsider the decision of June 2, 2020, with respect to the motion co-sponsored by Councillors Fry and Wiebe to pilot responsible alcohol consumption in public spaces.

Motion: Reallocation of Road Space to Support Shared Use during Pandemic

WHEREAS 

  1. The City of Vancouver declared a local state of emergency on March 19, 2020 in response to the global COVID19 pandemic;
  1. The Province has recommended physical distancing of 2 metres (6 feet) to prevent the spread of COVID19;
  1. The Province has also recommended the public continue to safely enjoy the outdoors, including local parks and public spaces;
  1. The Provincial health officer has commented publicly in recent weeks that partial street closures and one way travel/routing can be an effective way to enable physical exercise and safe distancing during the pandemic;
  1. Cities across Canada and around the world are undertaking measures to reallocate street space and roadways for pedestrians to safely exercise, access businesses and employment, while maintaining a safe distance due to the current pandemic;
  1. Vancouver City Council has previously endorsed motions to support slower residential streets and encourage safer shared use;
  1. The City of Vancouver and Park Board recently identified congestion in and around Stanley Park, and subsequently closed the Stanley Park roadway to cars and one lane along Beach Avenue to enable safe physical distancing during the COVID19 pandemic;
  1. The City of Vancouver has initiated a street reallocation initiative that focuses on Room to Queue, Room to Load, and Room to Move during the COVID19 pandemic;
  1. The ongoing pandemic necessitates that the City reallocate road space on an urgent basis now and develop plans for mobility and space use as part of our post-COVID-19 recovery and new economy.

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED THAT Council direct staff to expedite efforts to identify and implement appropriate reallocations of road space, such as high use greenways and streets adjacent to parks where space could be reallocated temporarily to enable safe shared use (pedestrians, cyclists, motor vehicles) and support safe physical distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic response, and

FURTHER THAT Council direct staff to communicate information to the public and businesses regarding the suite of street measures available to the City for reallocating space to support access to local businesses, to support loading and curbside pick-up, and to support physical activity and distancing in neighbourhoods across the city, and

FURTHER THAT Council direct staff to report back to Council in fall 2020 on refined options for mobility and public realm use us as part of the post COVID19 recovery and new economy.

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In the middle of an affordability crisis, Vancouver hiked property taxes sky high. Why?

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.

NPA Council Candidate Lisa Dominato Proposes City Registry to Encourage Property Philanthropy

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.

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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™).

Contact:
Lisa Dominato: 778-980-4422
Website: www.lisadominato.ca

NPA School Trustee Lisa Dominato Successfully Leads New Governance Model for Vancouver School Board  

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.

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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™). 

Contact:
Lisa Dominato: 778-980-4422
Website: www.lisadominato.ca
Twitter: @lisadominato
Instagram: @lisadominato

VSB joins Park Board, City of Vancouver in live streaming public meetings

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

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.

Rationale:

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.
• Objectives:
• 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.