Surrey council finalized the city’s budget 2023 – with a 12.5 per cent property tax increase – by approving a string of related bylaws on April 17, but not without some political shots from councillors.
Coun. Rob Stutt accused Coun. Annis of flip-flopping on the budget.
She, and Councillors Mandeep Nagra and Doug Elford voted against final adoption of the related bylaws on April 17.
Stutt noted that after the March 6 public hearing, Annis moved to limit the general tax increase to no more than 12.5 per cent in total.
“I find it somewhat difficult that councillor Annis in particular has reversed her opinion on all of these motions,” Stutt said.
Annis replied that she included a “friendly amendment” that the tax hike would be held at “up to” 12.5 per cent and she was “really hoping that staff would find a way to be able to come in less, because I just don’t think our taxpayers in Surrey can afford a 12.5 increase in their taxes in addition to tax increases in their utilities and other taxes as well.”
Stutt didn’t buy it.
The motion, he noted, reads to limit the tax increase to no more than 12.5 per cent total. “So to my mind that would suggest that she did approve the 12.5 per cent total tax increase.”
To this, Annis replied on a point of order that she wanted to clarify that wasn’t her intention.
“My intention was to ask, to do a friendly amendment so it would be up to 12.5 per cent, I was not looking to approve a 12.5 per cent tax increase,” she said. “I’ve not felt since the get-go that that would be appropriate for our Surrey residents.”
Stutt charged that Annis is “more a contrarian than anything else,” adding “she hasn’t offered any solutions to any issues she raises. If that were the case I think I’d be more inclined to listen.”
Nagra and Annis also opposed final adoption of a bylaw to increase by 6.8 per cent – in keeping with Vancouver Consumer Price Index annual average for inflation – the secondary plan and infill area amenity contribution as well as affordable housing, capital project and community specific capital project community amenity contributions rates.
“This is not the right time to make any sort of increases as a lot of projects are already struggling with high interest rates and other cost involved with the development and the material cost is high and there are a number of other hikes that the development community saw recently so I think this is not the right time to add more cost to the projects,” Nagra said. “So maybe if we can delay this, I will support this in future but not at this time.”
Annis agreed with Nagra, noting the city is trying to build more affordable housing and “this is not the time” to add more cost to developers.
The 6.8 per cent rate increase was approved.
Coun. Harry Bains remarked that if the city doesn’t charge developers “at least the rate of inflation, we’re not going to tax people appropriately. Where are these funds going to come from?”
Annis replied that city hall needs, like Surrey households, to look at how it manages its finances. “Times are tight for the residents of Surrey, times are tight for the city of Surrey and sometimes we have to make hard choices. We can’t just be spending residents money like it’s not our own and to expect our city to be passing on in excess of 12.5 per cent, because remember, that doesn’t include our utility taxes as well.
“We need to be looking for how can we save money, how can we do things more efficiently?” Annis told her council colleagues.
“I think there’s many ways that we can look at that and we should be doing that first and foremost before we’re just raising taxes. It’s an easy thing to do to keep raising taxes, it’s not so easy to look at where your costs are and how we can be more efficient.”
Coun. Gordon Hepner also weighed in.
“To hear the words of other councillors that are not wanting to work in a cohesive manner to the betterment of the city is disturbing,” he remarked.
Surrey Mayor Brenda Locke said this year’s budget “has not been an easy one for anybody.”
“It’s certainly not the budget we ever were hoping to pass but it’s the one we were dealt,” she said. “Having the complication of having basically two police departments running at the same time has put immense challenges, fiscal challenges on this city and that was the challenge that was put not only before this council but before this city and will be.”