The City of Vancouver has approved a new 0.5 per cent property tax aimed at fighting the overdose crisis that has cost more than 600 lives this year so far.
The increase is on top of the previously proposed 3.4 per cent (for a total of 3.9 per cent) increase in this year’s operating budget, and was added as a last-minute amendment.
The move is expected to generate about $3.5-million, money that would mostly be spent on the Downtown Eastside.
It was opposed by NPA Councillors, among them Melissa de Genova, who argued the public should be consulted before taxes were raised.
“It’s a very rare day that we see this, there was no opportunity for any public consultation on the 0.5% tax that was proposed just days before this special meeting,” she said.
But Councillor Kerry Jang says this is a crisis and therefore council had to act fast.
“If we don’t do something now, we can’t wait, we have to do something now and it makes me so angry to hear people treat human life so callously to say things like we should talk to some other level of government well how many are going to die today?”
But not everyone fighting on the front lines of the overdose crisis thinks a tax is the right way to do it.
Marshall Smith heads up the Cedars Society recovery houses, and says the move could actually turn taxpayers against the addicts it hopes to help.
“Healthcare dollars really should be coming from an appropriate level of government but I’m not a property tax expert. I just see that there’s a lot of negative reaction, negative backlash against addicts as a result of what’s happening,” he said.
The cash would go to creating three new four-member medic teams based out of the DTES fire hall, which would be active 24/7.
Additionally, it would fund a new community policing centre in Strathcona, training and mental health support for front-line city staff, along with new shelter spaces and staff support for overdose management at shelters.
This year’s Capital budget invests $80-million in affordable housing and $15 million for new child care spaces.
Will others follow suit?
Meanwhile, it doesn’t look like other municipalities will be following Vancouver council’s lead as far as adding a tax to cover the fentanyl crisis.
Delta Mayor Lois Jackson says she feels they have costs covered as far as ensuring first responders have naloxone and working on prevention programs.
“If somebody came up to me and said ‘here’s a good program and it costs X’ we’d certainly look at that, but I don’t just throw money into a budget and not know what I am going to be spending it on. You know we have to know what money is going to be spent on.
Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps says she is against a municipal tax to combat the fentanyl crisis.
She says it takes the pressure off the federal and provincial governments from offering the services they are bound to provide.
The City of Surrey budget passed yesterday with money for public safety but not specifically fentanyl.
With files from Janet Brown and Liza Yuzda.