The City of Richmond, which holds the distinction of the municipality with the second highest child poverty rate in the province, released its 2014 capital budget which came in at $186 million, well above its usual on account of some grandiose projects. However just under 0.5 per cent of that has been earmarked for its affordable housing strategy/program.
The budget proves the city is getting bigger, and apparently so are its problems, especially if such wealth re-distribution continues on this course.
What wasn’t missing at the budget was lots of political jockeying by city councillors toward the middle-class.
The top story making headlines from the News and Review newspapers was that property taxes would increase by 2.96 per cent to help fund this massive budget. It’s a third straight year of increases (beyond maintaining regular services) for this city council and it stirred lots of debate between two factions at city hall.
The tax increases were shot down by Councillors Bill McNulty Ken Johnston and Derek Dang. Councillors Chak Au, Linda Barnes, Evelina Halsey-Brandt, Linda McPhail, and Harold Steves as well as Mayor Malcolm Brodie wanted to see the increase on account that the city’s reserves need to be bolstered (as recommended by staff) to help pay for future infrastructure replacements. It’s the same old argument: Money in your pockets or city services that all can enjoy. It was noted by staff in the report that the increases are pretty much on par with other municipalities in Metro Vancouver.
Much was also made in the council meeting about $100,000 being earmarked for buying RCMP four vehicles after it was found that the police will no longer allow its senior officers to take home vehicles at night and use them to respond immediately to emergencies. Without these vehicles officers would have to go to the detachment first to get a police cruiser and then respond to the emergency. It seems like a lot of wasted breath for what amounts to a drop in the bucket.
So as many were playing for political points what wasn’t discussed in council was the seemingly paltry affordable housing funding tabbed for 2014, especially in light of many recent stories about how Richmond struggles with poverty and has the second highest child poverty rate for a B.C. municipality (in a province that ranks worse in Canada in that category). You would think city council would be cognizant of this fact and direct city staff to look into how it can improve the lives of its most desperate and vulnerable citizens as affordable housing is a major factor in alleviating child poverty.
Instead, what was handed to council – and subsequently approved – was one of the most dazzling budgets in the history of Richmond as it plans to build three multi-million dollar buildings, two of which for leisure pleasures (see below).
While the city has earmarked just under $0.9 million for its affordable housing program (last year it earmarked about $0.7 million) and $50,000 of new money for child care programs by comparison it will spend $5 million to acquire land for strategic purposes (quite possibly, this land will just sit there and do nothing for years (not to say land acquisition isn’t important but maybe it’s time to look at priorities differently)).
Of course, community centres and aquatic centres are important and offer valuable services and amenities, especially for poorer people, but there appears to be nothing special being done specifically about the poverty problem in Richmond, which continues to get worse by statistical and anecdotal accounts.
Not to sound alarmist but I see more and more homeless and desperate people in the city (especially after a two year absence) and more city centre parks are common dumping grounds for needles and condoms (see General Currie park).
The City of Richmond can’t keep ignoring its big-city problems, especially if its going to flog big-city budgets.
Here are the major highlights of the budget:
-Property taxes will jump 2.96 per cent.
+ 1.53 for same level of services (inflation, rising costs of wages etc.)
+ 0.34 for capital improvements
+ 1.00 for transfer to reserves
– 65 per cent ($122 million) of the capital budget related to building new buildings. Three new major city buildings take up the largest chunk of that amount: a new Minoru Aquatic Centre and seniors centre($76.9 million), a new Fire Hall No.1 ($21.5 million) and a new city centre community centre ($6.7 million).
– $32 million goes toward infrastructure improvements such as roads and sewers.
-$11 million for debt repayment and internal transfers.
-$8.1 million for equipment acquisition. $2.5 million is for technology upgrades for city facilities and about $2.0 million for vehicles. Also included is software updates and library materials. A one-time $100,000 cheque for four vehicles for the RCMP is included in this amount as well.
– $5 million will go to the Strategic Land Acquisition program. Strategic land can be anything from immediate community use (such as parks) or future use.
– $857,000 for the affordable housing program
-$50,000 of new money for child care programs.