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Taxpayers question cost, scope of A Stronger Vancouver

Majority of people speaking at Monday’s city council meeting criticize $23.5 million package

By , Columbian staff writer
Published: November 25, 2019, 10:03pm

Citizens packed the Vancouver City Council’s meeting Monday evening, as more than a dozen residents offered feedback on the 50-plus proposals laid out in A Stronger Vancouver.

While a few people voiced support for the package, the main takeaway from the testimony came from a majority who communicated strong opposition to footing the bill. Implementing A Stronger Vancouver would require raising property taxes, hiking utility rates and imposing a new fee on businesses, along with other sources.

“I will be losing my home before my death due to the continuing escalation of property taxes,” said R.J. Murdock, one of 15 people to address the city council about A Stronger Vancouver.

Another person who spoke at the forum, Sam Bateman, called the proposals “pie-in-the-sky, frivolous dreams.”

“Prioritize what you do have for what is needed, not for some pipe dreams,” Bateman said. “We’re already being taxed into the poorhouse.”

A Stronger Vancouver is a sweeping, comprehensive package of proposed projects and services. The initial set of recommendations would cost the city an estimated $30.1 million a year, but city councilors have since pared the funding options. As currently drafted, the package would require around $23.5 million in new revenue.

The plan was initially conceived as a way to address the city’s structural deficit and catch up on deferred maintenance and capital projects postponed during the Great Recession. A Stronger Vancouver was also developed with the city’s rapid population growth in mind, a trend that’s projected to continue through 2030.

The new sources of revenue would also pull Vancouver out of survival mode and allow the city to conduct more comprehensive, long-range planning, said City Manager Eric Holmes.

A Stronger Vancouver “really emphasizes us growing to be an exceptionally safe community, welcoming to citizens of all ages, abilities and backgrounds,” Holmes said, as the city strives to be “the most livable city on the Columbia River.”

Split between proposed capital projects and new or enhanced programs, the plan would touch nearly every aspect of life for residents and business owners, from traffic safety to homelessness services to a public arts program. It would also provide funding to replace the city’s woefully outdated Operations Center, as well as build new fire stations.

A full list of the proposed projects can be viewed at www.strongervancouver.org.

But many of the people who participated in the public forum expressed frustration over the scope of the proposal, and said they were worried about the city prioritizing wants over needs.

Glen Yung, a city resident and consistent fixture at Vancouver City Council meetings, pointed to the component of the plan that addresses parks — under A Stronger Vancouver, eight new parks would be built, and another 16 would see upgrades.

“We currently have a housing crisis. We have a homeless crisis. I don’t hear any mention of a parks crisis,” Yung said. “If it comes down to me having a park a little bit closer to my house, or somebody having a roof over their head, I choose the roof.”

Not all feedback was negative. Margaret Milem commended the package, as well as the 10-person group of volunteer stakeholders who started the process of putting it together in 2017.

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“We get what we pay for, and we get what we plan for,” Milem said. “I think they did a great job, and I think the Stronger Vancouver initiative has been — and is being — very well thought through.”

Hanging over the hearing was uncertainty surrounding Initiative 976, which passed by a sizeable majority on Nov. 5 and stripped individual cities of their authority to impose fees on car tabs. Vancouver’s car tab fees made up the majority of its street maintenance fund.

I-976 is currently being challenged in court.

“The entire Stronger Vancouver process assumed that transportation needs were covered, but now we know they’re not,” warned Ron Arp, the president of local business coalition Identity Clark County. “(The) business (community) is willing to invest, we just want to do so wisely.”

The next public hearing on A Stronger Vancouver will be held on Monday, Dec. 9 at the Firstenburg Community Center.

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