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Surrey council approves budget with 6% property tax increase

Only three residents attend public hearing
Surrey council on April 22 approved a 2024 budget that includes a 6% property tax hike, 1% increase in the roads and tax levy, and secondary suite fee and utility rate fee hikes. (Screen shot)

Surrey city council gave third-reading approval Monday night to a 2024 budget that includes a six per cent property tax hike, a one per cent increase in the roads and tax levy, and a secondary suite fee increase on top of costlier utility rate fees.

On Monday afternoon, the city’s finance committee gave its thumbs-up to the budget after a mere three Surrey residents attended a public hearing at city hall to voice their concerns.

Surrey Mayor Brenda Locke called it a “really wonderful” budget. Her Surrey Connect majority of five – herself, and councillors Pardeep Kooner, Harry Bains, Rob Stutt and Gordon Hepner – voted aye.

Surrey First councillors Linda Annis and Mike Bose, and Safe Surrey Coalition councillors Doug Elford and Mandeep Nagra, voted nay. This voting pattern was mirrored Monday night.

Kam Grewal, Surrey’s general manager of finance, presented the documents in the near-empty council chambers. The six per cent general property tax increase – meaning roughly $152 more for the average single-family dwelling — aims to address inflation “pressures,” new resources for policing, firefighting and bylaw enforcement.

The 2024 Five-Year (2024-2028) General Operating Financial Plan is based on “four key drivers,” with the other three beside the property tax increase being a one per cent roads and traffic levy increase (roughly $25 more for the average assessed single-family dwelling) to support Surrey’s transportation needs, a secondary suite fee hike working out to $155 per suite for applicable dwellings, and, “generally,” user fee hikes up to 3.5 per cent “to partially offset the cost increases associated with providing city services,” according to a finance committee corporate report.

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Surrey Board of Trade CEO Anita Huberman was the first to speak at the public hearing. Each had five minutes.

“We do urge the city to issue its budget in December, prior to the following fiscal year,” she said. “This delay that happened this year, while understandable, creates an uncertain economic environment for businesses and organizations. Businesses can’t plan four months into the year with an uncertain property tax environment. Businesses bear the greatest burden of taxation in an already challenging economic environment.”

Huberman was followed by Fleetwood resident Richard Landale.

“All our grandchildren will pay for this year’s budget mistakes,” he said.

Next up was Deb Jack, of Surrey Environmental Partners. She reminded council today is Earth Day.

“A scientific evaluation in 2024 says we humanity are facing two over-arching existential crises — climate change and biodiversity loss,” Jack said. “United Nations general secretary Guterres agrees with this, the environmental biodiversity needs to be paramount. This budget does not reflect this reality.”

After Grewal’s presentation, and hearing from the few residents, the city’s finance committee approved its five-year financial plans (both operating and capital) and city grants for 2024.

During debate, Annis said if you look at the bottom line on your tax bill, “when you add it all up, is the tax increase not really 10.5 per cent? I know we’ve already passed the utilities, which I think was at 3.5 per cent, but then when you add the six and the additional one for the road tax, does it not come to 10.5?”

Grewal replied that when the tax bills go out over the course of the next few months, “I would say that the increase for the City of Surrey is that six plus one per cent for the average assessed home. The utilities that we passed this year, there were increases as well, but they were very nominal in terms of the City of Surrey.”

Annis said people look at their bottom line compared to last year. “I know we collect taxes for other taxing authorities, but I think we have to be careful in our messaging our tax increase in the City of Surrey for the residents, bottom line, no matter who we’re collecting it from, is going to be more than seven per cent, and I just want to make sure that we’re clear on that.”

Surrey’s budget in 2023 came with a 12.5 per cent property tax hike after council rejected a plan that had the tax increase set at 17.5 per cent.

About the Author: Tom Zytaruk

I write unvarnished opinion columns and unbiased news reports for the Surrey Now-Leader.
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