Four-year program focuses on child care, recreation, housing and cycle/pedestrian traffic improvements
By Jeff Lee
In an election-themed effort reflecting its changing priorities, Vancouver council plans to pour hundreds of millions of dollars into new child-care spaces, affordable housing, sports facilities and cycling and pedestrian traffic improvements with a four-year, $1.08-billion capital plan.
Council on Wednesday said it wants much of its long-range plan devoted to people-related issues, reflecting Vision Vancouver’s green and social service agendas.
Past capital plans have tended to focus more on renewal and expansion of roads, water and sewer lines, and to a lesser extent, social services.
But beginning in 2011 council began to shift those priorities, spending more on bike lanes, pedestrian walkways, social housing and a host of projects themed around its Greenest City Action Plan. This new capital plan, which reflects the provincial change to four-year municipal election cycles, takes that shift to a new level.
Council was told by staff the yearly amount the city puts into its capital plans isn’t changing much; it annually devotes about $250-$270 million toward these hard assets. The last three-year plan was for $702 million; this one is for $1.08 billion over four years.
The change is where the money will be spent. In the last plan council put $60 million into housing and another $11 million into child care. But in the new plan, the city will double the amount spent on housing and triple the amount on child care.
Much of the money for housing will go into the city’s new Vancouver Affordable Housing Authority. The $85 million represents the city’s share of the cost of 2,550 new housing units it will build with partner agencies. It will also pour $38 million — or about $150,000 a unit — into repairing 251 units of city-owned housing. Staff say that about 30 per cent of the 1,361 city-owned units are “currently assessed as being in poor condition.”
The $30 million going to child care will build 1,000 new spaces and update hundreds of others at a cost of about $50,000 a space.
The city will also put an as-yet undetermined amount toward preparing for a new Broadway rapid-transit corridor. Staff says they will report back on that plan in September.
At least $170 million is also being devoted to parks, sports fields and passive transportation improvements such as more bike lanes. It includes money for “temporary improvements” for pedestrians and cyclists on both Granville and Cambie Bridges, reflecting a draft city plan to create a central walk and bikeway down the middle of Granville Bridge. Changes to Cambie would be more for pedestrian access, the city said. The city will also make the bike lane on Burrard Bridge permanent, and intends to plant 50,000 new trees and add or expand 10 new community gardens.
The city hasn’t turned its back on its major road programs, however. Jerry Dobrovolny, the city’s director of transportation, told council Wednesday more than $100 million will go toward improving and repairing major roads.
In replying to a question from Coun. Geoff Meggs, Dobrovolny also promised that the long rehabilitation program of Burrard Bridge, which has spanned two capital plans, would end with this new one.
The aggressive capital plan will be funded in part by a $400-million borrowing bill, if it is approved by taxpayers in the Nov. 15 civic election. The rest will come from reserves, community amenity contributions, development cost levies, pay-as-you-go programs and user fees.
But the plan has also drawn a note of caution from staff, who say the city is piling on more debt. They warn that over the life of the capital plan it will add $17 million in servicing costs, equivalent to a 2.2 per cent increase in property taxes.
More ominously, city staff say the increased borrowing in recent years is raising the ratio of tax-supported debt servicing to operating expenditures. The city has a policy of keeping that ratio under 10 per cent and in 2010 it was at 7.2 per cent. But in 2013 it rose to 7.8 per cent and is now forecast to rise to 8.8 per cent by 2019 before heading to a predicted high of 9.2 per cent in 2027.
Staff raised the same fears in the last capital plan cycle, and are now trying to get that spending ratio under control by shifting some long-range debt financing to “pay-as-you-go.”
The new plan also addresses some of the complaints raised by residents in the last plan that not enough was being spent on recreational facilities. Suzanne Anton, then an NPA councillor, tried to get council in 2011 to put money into sports fields but was rebuffed by Mayor Gregor Robertson’s council.
This time, the city intends to spend $25 million on the first phase of a new Britannia Centre, as well as $15 million on renewing sports fields, courts and field houses. It also is putting in $75 million for other recreational services, including two new parks on the Fraser River and one downtown at Smithe and Richards.
By the numbers
Vancouver plans to spend $1.08 billion on capital investments over the next four years. Here’s where some of the money will go, and where it will come from.
- Affordable housing: $125 million, including $85 million toward 2,550 new units, and $38 million to refurbish 251 units in city-owned buildings
- Childcare: $30 million, including $25 million for 1,000 new spaces and $5 million for renewal of existing
- Parks, open spaces and recreation: $125 million, including $25 million for part renewal of Britannia Centre, $25 million for refurbishing sports facilities and Hastings Park/PNE, and $75 million for parks and trees, including a new Fraser River Park and cleaning up Beaver Creek in Stanley Park
- Libraries, social and cultural facilities: $40 million for expansion of the central library, construction of Qmunity, a new facility for the LGBT community and capital grants programs for non-profit groups
- Transportation: $150 million for renewal of sidewalks, roads and traffic signals, new bike lane and pedestrian-related improvements, including “temporary” bike and walking lanes on Granville and Cambie Bridges, and repairing railings and lights on Burrard Bridge, including making the bike lane permanent
- Utilities and public works: $325 million for replacing, upgrading or separating water pipes and combined sewer pipes, expansion of the False Creek Neighbourhood Energy Centre and purchase of 4,500 new water meters
- Facility renewals, renovations and maintenance: $80 million, including $15 million for the replacement of Fire Hall No. 17 at Knight and 54th Avenue and the rest going to upgrading other city buildings
- Equipment and technology: $115 million for 725 vehicles and upgrading technology software
- Emerging priorities and inflation contingency: $95 million
- General debt: $235 million (plebiscite)
- Utility debt: $165 million (plebiscite)
- ‘Pay-as-you-go’ capital funding: $155 million
- Capital reserves: $130 million
- Development cost levies and community amenity contributions: $300 million
- User fees for water and sewer connections: $60 million
- Contributions from other governments and partners: $40 million
Source: City of Vancouver
Photograph by: Gerry Kahrmann , PNG