It is an understatement to say that Vancouver has changed in the past year; the city is much different than it was before the arrival of coronavirus.
The fact that most residents have thus far weathered the health and economic crises brought about by COVID-19 does not mitigate the losses that have been felt. As Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle said Monday: “2020 was a most unusual year and it was full of unimaginable and difficult challenges. . . . Many have endured extraordinary hardship and loss, and each of us have experienced change.”
McEnerny-Ogle was delivering the State of the City address, a typically annual presentation that was canceled last year and was done remotely this year.
The speech focused on the adjustments required by the pandemic and social unrest over the past year, and spelled out a vision for Vancouver’s future. For example, McEnerny-Ogle said: “The city council responded and adopted a policy leadership statement affirming our commitment to racial equity and justice. The city then hosted a series of listening sessions with the city to better understand the lived experience of our residents.”
Yet while words are important for conveying leadership, providing a sense that local government is moving in the right direction and responding to the concerns of citizens, there also is a need for raw data. You know, such as answers to the question, “Where do my tax dollars go?”
Because of that, we point out the State of the City Annual Report.
There we can find that Vancouver’s median annual household income is $66,697, and that the median age of residents is 36.9. We also find that 29.2 percent of residents have a bachelor’s degree or higher, and that 13.6 percent live in poverty.
All of that information is in previously available reports from the state or federal governments that can be difficult to wade through. Here, it is presented in a readily accessible format.
For example, we learn that city residents who live in the Vancouver Public Schools boundaries paid a median $4,082 in property taxes in 2020. Of that, $1,331 went to the school district; $1,137 to state public schools; $908 to the city’s general and affordable housing funds; $412 to Clark County; $184 to the library district; and $109 to the Port of Vancouver.
From the $908 that goes to the city, about one-quarter is earmarked for the police department and 22 percent for fire services.
The city also made $47.1 million from its portion of sales tax revenue in 2020, and $13.3 million of that went to police services. There also are details about how the city spends money from the state marijuana tax and vehicle license fees and other revenue streams.
In addition, officials last year launched a budget portal so the public may track city spending in real time.
During an era when government at all levels is under scrutiny and anti-government forces often rely on falsehoods to promote their agenda, transparency is essential for upholding the pillars of our democracy. So, too, is a free and independent press.
All of that helps to create an informed populace that can hold leaders accountable and support effective government. As McEnerny-Ogle spoke about the A Stronger Vancouver initiative, which was paused because of the pandemic, she talked of creating “a safer, welcoming, vibrant and prosperous city” and asked, “What kind of city do we want to be?”
The answers will depend on an engaged and knowledgeable public.