Surrey’s bitterly contested city budget 2021 was approved on a predictable five-to-four vote on Monday night with the Safe Surrey Coalition majority pushing it through.
“It’s a budget for the times, it’s a budget that will go down in history in Surrey, of the way to come out of a pandemic or any disaster.”
Each council member discharged their minds on the matter, some with biting comments for their council rivals.
While Safe Surrey Coalition says the budget holds the line with a general property tax increase of 2.9 per cent for the third year in a row, the minority on council argue that Surrey residents’ tax bill will be much more than that, with some paying 12 to 15 per cent more in 2021.
A particular bone of contention for many critical of the budget is a 200 per cent increase in the capital parcel tax increase, which sat at $100 per parcel but is now increasing to $300. The intent of this tax is to pay for 16 community projects, among them a city centre sports complex and various park improvements.
Councillor Allison Patton said she supports the budget “whole-heartedly and fully.
“I think that we’ve managed extremely well in these very difficult times,” she added.
“We have been a beacon of light in difficult times and that’s what leaders do,” Patton said. “These times challenge us all and we have to decide who are we today – are we positive, are we people who are energized, or are we going to be negative and focus on what’s wrong all the time. I suggest and encourage us all to think more positively, what is going right, because there is a lot to be thankful for.
“We really must plan for the future as opposed to succumb to the fears of today,” she said.
Councillor Brenda Locke said she doesn’t support the parcel tax. “I think this does not meet what the Community Charter intended it to be,” she said, noting that there is an appeals process available to the public.
Councillor Linda Annis didn’t support the budget either, “particularly with the news today when we hear we’re going to be going into a further lockdown.
“It means more people will be losing their jobs, yet we’re heaping on massive property taxes and I’m very, very concerned about that. I’m concerned about people losing their homes and their businesses because they’re paying more taxes, it’s just one more thing for them to worry about,” Annis said. “I’m also really concerned about the city going into debt, $130 million in borrowing plus $7 million for operating costs. We all need to be tightening our belts right now.”
Councillor Steven Pettigrew echoed that. “Who are we taxing? We are taxing the people that can least afford it,” he said. “This is just a real hardship upon them.”
Council approved 31 bylaws related to the budget. Councillor Jack Hundial said that “now is not the time to be taking on significant debt.”
Councillor Laurie Guerra, however, argued that “now is the time to borrow money at the lowest rates I’ve ever seen to fund much-needed infrastructure projects in one of the fastest growing cities in Canada. Surrey remains at the bottom one-third of the municipalities in the Metro Vancouver Region in terms of residential taxes paid.”
“I too am a taxpayer,” she said. “I don’t take this decision lightly.
“For me, it’s worth it.”
Councillor Mandeep Nagra called it the “best budget the city has seen so far in our term” and Councillor Doug Elford said the budget “delivers much-needed infrastructure now, while serving the needs of the future of the people of Surrey. Now is not the time to slow things down.”
Meantime, prior to Monday’s council meeting Locke and Hundial, both of the Surrey Connect Slate, stepped down from the Parcel Tax Review Committee in protest against the 200 per cent increase.
“It is unfair and punitive during this time of financial insecurity,” Locke said. “It hurts everyone, especially those who can least afford it – seniors, single parents and families in modest housing will feel the brunt of this tax.”
The Surrey Connect councillors say that with the addition of this levy the tax increase on an average single family house will be 11.25 per cent and for an average townhouse, 14 per cent.
Hundial said these increases are designed to “shore up” funding for replacing the Surrey RCMP with the Surrey Police Service, “for which a final cost is yet to be determined and the majority of Surreyites still do not want.
“These are unprecedented times and there is only one taxpayer to support spending for all levels of government,” Hundial said.
A group identifying itself as “angry women taxpayers” delivered 200 parcel tacks to city hall on Monday afternoon, in a gesture of protest against the parcel tax.
Protest organizer Annie Kaps noted that a resident living in a studio apartment with a murphy bed, and a small business owner, will under the levy pay the same $200 parcel tax increase as an owner of a “mega-house” with multiple families or a large business, such as Costco on King George Boulevard for example.