The vote was not unanimous, with support from councillors Sarah Kirby-Young, Rebecca Bligh, Lisa Dominato, Michael Wiebe, Adriane Carr and Pete Fry.
Vancouver council voted on Monday to shift two per cent of the property tax burden from businesses to residential properties.
The only voice before council Tuesday in opposition to the tax shift was City of Vancouver staff. However, the vote was not unanimous, with support from councillors Sarah Kirby-Young, Rebecca Bligh, Lisa Dominato, Michael Wiebe, Adriane Carr and Pete Fry.
Council heard a series of presentations in support of the shift, including representatives of neighbourhood business improvement associations, the Building Owners and Managers Association, the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade, and the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses.
Each of those speakers argued the tax shift would provide some relief to businesses, but many also acknowledged the difficulty of increasing property taxes for homeowners who already feel overburdened in an increasingly expensive city.
Bligh had said before the meeting that she planned to support the shift, adding: “This is for every single business to get a very clear message from this government that we value them, and while they’re trying to figure out how to make it work day-to-day, we’re in their corner.”
Timing for this decision was “extremely tight,” the city manager, Sadhu Johnston, told council. The new tax shift will be reflected in property tax notices going out in May.
In December, council ordered staff to explore the two per cent tax shift. The rationale was to support local independent businesses who have long hoped for relief after years of increasing property taxes, which many neighbourhood retailers and restaurants had blamed for their closures.
City staff reported to council earlier this month with its analysis, recommending against the shift. The report states a “blanket” shift does not effectively target the commercial properties that need it the most, but instead, affects them all “without considering whether or not they need any tax relief.”
Michelle Barile, executive director of the West Broadway Business Improvement Association, disagreed with that reasoning, telling council: “Some solutions that are broad are still solutions, and we need those solutions. If someone needs an oxygen tank to breathe but they also have cancer spreading through their body, do we not give them that oxygen tank?”
The staff report refers to efforts going on to find a more precise way to provide relief for the properties that need it the most, particularly those hit by soaring year-over-year tax hikes due to properties being assessed at their “highest and best use” zoning, which might be a highrise while the property currently holds a one-storey building. A group of people from various provincial ministries and municipalities is reviewing that issue.
But a property tax expert, Paul Sullivan, told council Monday he was not optimistic progress would come quickly.
“I’ve been talking about this since 2006, and there’s been nothing done,” said Sullivan, a senior partner at Burgess, Cawley, Sullivan and Associates. “I’ve been on more committees with this staff, and with the provincial government, and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, trying to come up with a solution for small business, and nobody can agree on anything.”
“I am very jaded on this, I am sorry to say, because I’ve been at it longer and more deeply than anybody else, and there is no political will to actually make the change,” Sullivan said. “Today all you can do is the two per cent shift. I hope this council has a little more fortitude than we’ve seen in the past, and we can actually create some real change.”
With files from David Carrigg and Joanne Lee-Young