In Our View: ‘Stronger Vancouver’ facets offer plan for future

Regardless of what it is called, the city of Vancouver needs a plan for the future. Budget constraints created in part by state law will continue to exist, and the population will continue to grow.

A growing population requires increases in public safety and attention to affordable housing. And a vibrant city requires investment in parks and streets and other amenities and necessities that make it an attractive place to live. Whether or not those fall under the umbrella of “Stronger Vancouver,” they are needed to maintain and enhance the quality of life for residents.

“Staff will no longer use the Stronger Vancouver term to describe anything prospective, rather we will just rely on our strategic plan and effort,” City Manager Eric Holmes said Monday at a city council meeting.

With that comes the unofficial end of the Stronger Vancouver proposal, an ambitious plan developed over two years with vast citizen input. The extensive recommendation, developed by a 10-member citizen committee and presented to the city council in 2019, included more than 50 items — ranging from one-time expenses such as reconstructing fire stations to ongoing services that require dedicated funding streams.

In total, the proposal would have increased taxes to residents and visitors by about $30 million a year. The citizen committee suggested a three-way split for raising that revenue: An increase in property taxes; increased business taxes; and various other taxes and fees.

The coronavirus pandemic has altered the framework of those finances, making an all-encompassing package of proposals untenable. But needs still exist, leading officials to approach those plans in piecemeal fashion.

It is a logical tack. As The Columbian reported: “This adjustment came after an effort to make the plan less convoluted, more predictable and easier for the community to understand.”

Mayor Pro Tem Linda Glover said: “This single integrated plan does feel really good. It feels like things are coming together with a strong vision with strong direction that we can understand.”

According to the 2020 U.S. Census, the city’s population increased 18 percent over the previous decade to 190,915. Continued growth is expected, requiring increases in spending. Police and fire services and road maintenance are important for attracting workers and businesses; the police department budget, for example, accounts for about one-third of the city’s general fund.

But municipal governments in Washington have difficulty meeting growing needs. A large chunk of revenue comes from property taxes, and property tax levies are limited to a 1 percent annual increase under state law. With a 1 percent increase not keeping up with inflation, cities (and counties) are limited in their ability to pay for services.

All of that has influenced how the city approaches what was the Stronger Vancouver proposal, lending clarity that will be beneficial for taxpayers. The new path will dictate a focus on needs rather than wants, with each facet of the proposal being assessed on its own merits.

The most pressing of those needs is working in conjunction with Clark County to address homelessness. Increasing affordable housing, helping those in need to find treatment, and cleaning up unsightly encampments will touch upon all facets of livability throughout the city.

That is an immediate issue. In the long run, weighing the individual facets of Stronger Vancouver will provide the city with a plan for a prosperous future.

Article Source: The Columbian