Get ready for your 12.5-per-cent property tax hike.
Surrey city council gave third-reading approval Monday to a raft of bylaws related to a 12.5 per cent property tax increase this year that’s predicated on the Surrey RCMP remaining this city’s police of jurisdiction, with councillors Linda Annis and Mandeep Nagra voting in opposition.
Final approval is expected on April 17.
Coun. Doug Elford did not attend council’s Monday meeting.
“I am opposed to this, I don’t think this is the right time to make any sort of increases as we all know that we are going through a recession and we have just seen a huge interest rate hike as well, so I don’t think our residents are ready to pay more at this time,” Nagra said.
Annis echoed that.
“I don’t think the taxpayers at this point in time, the businesses or the residents, can afford a 12.5 per cent tax increase. It’s huge for many, many families that live in Surrey,” she said.
“I think it’s going to put them over the top and in addition to what we’re approving tonight, of course, we also have our utilities taxes will be over and above that. I just think it’s gone way too far.”
While she supports getting more firefighters, police and bylaw enforcement officers, and another rink in Cloverdale, she said, for Annis the “fly in the ointment” is the amount the city has allocated to keep the RCMP.
“Whatever way it goes is fine with me, but I don’t have good faith in the number of severance that $85 million, that that indeed is the correct number and that’s a huge part of our budget.”
Finance manager Kam Grewal said for the 2023 fiscal year the amounts for either the RCMP or Surrey Police Service are “virtually identical.”
If the severance doesn’t materialize for any reason, Grewal said, the funding could be used for other purposes “or fall to the bottom line for future years, it would be at the discretion of council.”
“Our analytics and analysis indicates over 2023, whether its RCMP or SPS, the budget allocation is going to be virtually the same. Of course, if it’s SPS there won’t be a severance component but there will be other factors that will need to be considered as part of the RCMP demobilizing and overall the numbers are very much the same for 2023.”
Surrey council sitting as the finance committee on March 6 rejected the city’s proposed budget for 2023 containing a 17.5 per cent tax increase for 2023 after it was slammed by angry Surrey residents at a public hearing at city hall.
A revised budget came before council for consideration on April 3, after council had instructed city staff to limit the property tax increase to no more than 12.5 per cent.
After hearing from outraged residents, council voted on March 6 to have city staff incorporate $89.9 million from the Growing Communities Fund into the 2023-2027 financial plan and also use the grant money to build a third sheet of ice in Cloverdale, to reduce the 2023 tax increase for “policing shortfall” from 9.5 per cent to 4.5 per cent, to maintain the seven per cent general property tax increase for “inflationary pressures” and new resources, and to maintain the one per cent hike in the roads levy.
This would mean the 2023 total general tax increase would be no more than seven, 4.5 and one to a total of 12.5 per cent.
Council on Monday also passed second-reading on a bylaw that would see a 6.8 per cent increase in the Secondary Plan and Infill Area Amenity Contribution, Affordable Housing, Capital Project, and Community Specific Capital Project Community Amenity Contributions rates, calculated using the average annual Vancouver Consumer Price Index for inflation.
This will go to a public hearing on Monday, April 17, at 7 p.m.
Meantime, Coun. Rob Stutt asked Grewal about the “dynamics” beyond 2023 as it relates to the city’s budget and the policing issue. Grewal replied that starting in 2024 there will be a “significant difference in retaining the SPS that would also apply for 2025, 2026, and in fact in perpetuity. In the analysis that we did back at the end of 2022 indicate that from an ongoing perspective there’a likely a minimum difference of $32 million per year, every year, going forward.”
Nagra asked Grewal if the city will save the $85 million if it goes with the SPS.
“I wouldn’t describe that as a savings because even though we do not have to pay out severance under that scenario there will be additional costs in terms of demobilizing the RCMP that would be of the equivalent, so it would be kind-of cost neutral from that perspective,” Grewal replied. “In terms of the transition, assuming that it is RCMP as directed by council, the transition would effectively from a financial perspective be complete this year because of the severance component. There might be some trailing costs going in to 2024 but they’d be minimal.”
Stutt asked if the city is “sustainable” moving forward with the RCMP. City manager Vincent Lalonde replied that the budget before council is based on the RCMP continuing as Surrey’s police of jurisdiction.
“Anything else is basically based on our discussions we had with council on future models, on predictions. So it’s very important that you consider the bylaws in front of you and the financial information as keeping RCMP as POJ, that is council direction.”
Mayor Brenda Locke said “the big part of the challenge” for Surrey has been to “operationalize” two police forces at the same time.
“That has put us in a very difficult situation. We’re also dealing with a history that we have had to try and pick those pieces up as well. There is a number of things, including capital projects, that we want to support; we want to support infrastructure for our residents. This is certainly not the kind of numbers we would have ever wanted to see but they are the ones we are dealt with.”
The RCMP has been Surrey’s police of jurisdiction since it took over from the Surrey Police on May 1, 1951, as the result of a plebiscite. Surrey’s is the largest RCMP detachment in Canada.
On Nov. 5, 2018, the council of the day, led by mayor Doug McCallum, served notice to the provincial and federal governments that it would end its contract with the RCMP to set up its own force.
Four years and one civic election later, on Nov. 14, 2022, the current council led by Locke decided on a 5-4 vote to maintain the Surrey RCMP as this city’s police of jurisdiction instead of forging ahead with the Surrey Police Service.
Meantime, Public Safety Minister and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth has yet to render a decision on the transition. He said Monday in Victoria he’s expecting to receive “information” from the director of police services later this week.
“At the last time we spoke, I said that I wanted to have a decision by the time the tax notices go out, which is in mid-May. I want to assure everyone that it’s being worked on very, very fast. The initial plan to go to transition to Surrey Police Service, that took an initial 18 months. We received the information from the City of Surrey just before Christmas and the ministry staff have been working very expeditiously on it and I would like to get this done, as I said before, as soon as possible.”
“I understand the mayor of Surrey’s position, Surrey has the right to make decisions around policing and the mayor’s sole concern is the city of Surrey. My responsibility as solicitor general is to ensure safe and effective policing not only for Surrey but for the entire province of British Columbia,” Farnworth told reporters.
Locke asked Grewal how much Farnworth’s “stall of the decision” has cost the city to date.
“In terms of effectively carrying two police organizations, that monthly burn rate, if you will, it’s approximately $8 million per month,” Grewal replied.
Locke said the city was initially expecting a decision by the end of January.
“It’s extremely disappointing, the minister knows full well the cost. He knows we’ve been waiting for this decision for a very long time. He knows that the RCMP have provided safe and effective policing in this city for 72 years. He knows that the city has made the decision to change to the RCMP and he also knows that in the Police Act it is the responsibility, the jurisdiction of the local government, to pick their police force,” she told the Now-Leader. “It is our right, according to the Police Act, to choose our police force.”
While taking the matter to court, if need be, is “absolutely” in the city’s toolkit, Locke said, “that would be an absolute last resort. But that is not my wish. I will take the word of the premier when he says to me it will go Surrey’s way. He said that. The previous premier said that, and this minister, this solicitor general, also said it is Surrey’s decision. The length of time it is taking them to make this decision is really unfortunate, and it’s unfortunate that they didn’t take this kind of time to make the decision to go with the switchover that we’re into at this point. It’s too bad they didn’t do this kind of due diligence at the front end. And so we’re faced with doing it now, and that seems extraordinarily unfair to the residents and I daresay I think it’s disrespectful to the residents of Surrey that it’s taking so long.”
Surrey Board of Trade CEO Anita Huberman said that “despite the reduced resident property tax of 12.5 per cent that was approved at the April 3 City of Surrey council meeting, the Surrey Board of Trade is very concerned about ongoing, uncertain property tax increases for businesses.
“It is business,” she said, “that bears the greatest burden of taxation by all levels of government. The City of Surrey budget, on top of regional and provincial tax increases, are stifling businesses to grow in an already challenging economy.”