Independent task force to investigate and find efficiencies in City of Vancouver budget

Apr 3 2023, 5:46 pm

Fresh pairs of eyes will be taking a very close look at the City of Vancouver’s budget to identify efficiencies and duplications, and potential new revenue and opportunities.

Vancouver Mayor Ken Sim announced this morning the creation of an independent Mayor’s Task Force to investigate the municipal government’s budget, with the task force comprised entirely of experienced professionals working on a volunteer basis.

This comes after City staff’s surprising plan for a high 10.7% average property tax hike for 2023, which was controversially approved by Vancouver City Council in late February.

The 2023 operating budget has increased to $1.97 billion — up from $1.75 billion, representing one of the largest year-over-year increases ever. Without any additional services, there will be continued upward pressure on the operating budget from natural increases over the coming years, potentially pushing it up to nearly $2.5 billion by 2026 in a scenario without intervention. Annual property tax hikes would remain elevated — at least in the high single-digit range.

The task force will investigate both the operating budget and the capital budget, which is the separate budget that funds new and improved community amenities, facilities, and infrastructure. They will look at ways to not only identify budget efficiencies, but also to improve service levels, processes, and transparency, as well as identify any areas of concern around deferred maintenance, unfunded liabilities, capital expenditures, pensions, and equipment replacement costs.

It is already known that one of the most pressing infrastructural challenges is the aging and under-sized sewage pipe network, as a result of more than a decade of underinvestment in replacement work.

It is noted that the Vancouver Park Board, Vancouver Police Department, and Vancouver Public Library are not part of the task force’s analysis, but they account for a significant portion of the municipal government’s overall budget.

“When we passed this year’s budget, I promised that we would do everything within our power find ways to spend taxpayer money more efficiently and effectively – that’s exactly what today’s announcement is about. We owe it to taxpayers to ensure their money is treated with respect,” said Sim.

“This is a team of highly skilled, experienced professionals. Their perspectives and expertise will be an invaluable asset as we look to the future of our City’s finances.”

All five volunteer members of the task force have an accounting and financial background.

The task force will be chaired by Randy Pratt, who is a CPA and CA and is currently the president of Nampa Enterprises. He was previously the CFO of Adera Development Corporation.

Other task force members include Lisa Stewart (CFA, RBC PH&N Investment Counsel), Vince Lok (CPA ,CA, CFA, former CFO and executive vice-president of Teekay Corporation), Calvin Buss (FCPA, FCA, former Deloitte partner), and Tom Chambers (FCPA, FCA, and former PricewaterhouseCoopers partner). Vancouver city councillors Lenny Zhou and Brian Montague will also be task force members to provide City Council representation.

The task force will be supported by advisors including BC Ferries board chair and former BC deputy premier Joy MacPhail, Greater Vancouver Board of Trade president and CEO Bridgitte Anderson, former City of Vancouver general manager of business planning and director of financial planning Kenneth Bayne, and former Musqueam First Nation councillor Wade Grant.

“I believe this task force is another positive step forward to ensure that the City of Vancouver is making the best possible use of taxpayer dollars. This announcement will ensure that we can build a strong and resilient future for our city’s finances, leading to a more efficient, effective government,” said Grant.

Anderson added: “Our communities depend on the vitality and diversity that businesses bring to our economy. Many small businesses, especially those in the downtown area, are feeling the squeeze of higher rents, labour costs and increased prices for materials and supplies. It’s critical that the city work to ensure that tax rates are affordable, and regulations are streamlined to reduce unnecessary burdens, allowing the creation of jobs and businesses to grow, ensuring our city is thriving.”

The task force will create a comprehensive report over the next six months, with a final report delivered to the mayor by no later than early October 2023, which will then be presented to City Council and the general public. The findings and recommendations of the report will be used to help build the 2024 operating budget.

This forthcoming work supplements the efforts of the municipal government’s recently created independent Auditor General’s office.

Kenneth ChanKenneth Chan

+ News
+ Politics
+ City Hall
+ Urbanized