Surrey City Hall

SBOT speaks up on city budget

Business group wants tighter control over operating budget, better use of policing dollars, among other issues.

Surrey businesses are supportive of the city’s 2014 budget, but they are concerned with some of the approaches contained within it.

The Surrey Board of Trade (SBOT) sent the city a list of recommendations for the City of Surrey 2014 budget, noting several areas that it says need attention.

One of the areas causing the SBOT concern is spending growth, particularly on the operating side of the ledger.

The board wants to see Surrey keep its operating budget in line with population growth and inflation.

The operating costs in Surrey are taking $9 million jump next year, largely due to a settlement with union workers.

The board urged caution.

“The level of spending increases without new revenue sources outside of taxpayer wallets is not sustainable to Surrey business and Surrey residential taxpayers,” the board said in a release Friday.

The board also wants better communication with businesses in Surrey and better transparency regarding a roads and traffic utility.

Next year, a road levy will increase by $70 for businesses, which will be added to the existing $357 levy – an increase of about 20 per cent.

“Recommendation to the City is to fully disclose the full scope and breadth of this Utility,” the board said.

While happy to see the 12 extra police officers next year, the board wants to see more funding directed to preventing and counteracting gang activity.

The board wants better disaster planning directed toward businesses. When the next earthquake or natural disaster occurs, businesses want city support to be there.

“We think more resources need to be put towards a business emergency preparedness program,” said SBOT CEO Anita Huberman. “We will have an earthquake one day, or some type of disaster, and we need to ensure that not only priority businesses are looked after but all businesses are looked after.”

The board wants Surrey to explore some alternate revenue sources, including charging extra taxes to abandoned gas stations, or better using agricultural land that is not used for farming.

The board wants Surrey to consider rezoning city-owned space for arts and cultural uses.

Finally, the SBOT is asking Surrey to find ways that new developments can include quality childcare spaces as part of their development approval process.

Coun. Tom Gill, who chairs the city’s finance committee, said he welcomes the input from the SBOT.

He notes that the city has some of the lowest taxes in the region, and is still recovering from a 10-year freeze on tax increases that ended in 2003.

“I honestly do feel we have been playing a bit of catch up right now,” Gill said. “And I think some of that catch up relates to that 10-year span where we had no tax increases.”

The city’s 2014 budget is expected to receive final approval on Monday night.

The Surrey Board of Trade represents more than 1,900 business members, 5,000 business contacts, and more than 60,000 employees.

For the full Surrey Board of Trade City Budget Letter, go to www.businessinsurrey.com

@diakiw

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