Surrey City Hall Council Chambers (Now-Leader file photo)

Higher development fees in budget would ‘make Surrey less affordable’: Annis

Councillor slams draft budget for development cost increases that would be ‘passed right along to buyers’

Surrey First Councillor Linda Annis has already slammed the city’s draft budget for its hiring freeze on police officers and firefighters, and she’s now taking aim at development fee increases that she says would “make Surrey less affordable for families.”

“Community amenity charges will go up as much as $4,000 per unit and bonus density charges will climb by as much as $40 per square foot,” Annis said, in a release, of details laid out in the proposed financial plan.

“The real kicker is that these increases, which are going to be passed right along to buyers, have nothing to do with good urban planning or increased community amenities. Instead, they are all about financing the mayor’s proposed new police department. Consequently, these added costs are going to make Surrey less affordable for families.”

Annis says development cost increases would simply get added on to the price of a home.

“In addition, Surrey taxpayers can forget about city infrastructure, new ice rinks or pools, or adding more police or firefighters. Absolutely everything in this draft budget is about making it possible to pay for the mayor’s proposed police department, at tremendous cost to everything else in our city.”

READ MORE: New Surrey Police force ‘swallowing up’ city’s funds, Annis says

She categorized the overall approach in the budget as “reckless” and said the proposed Surrey Police Department has “become this giant black hole and we’re shoveling more and more money into it every single week.”

“At the same time, the numbers around the transition aren’t to be believed because no one at city hall can speak with any authority about their validity.”

Last week, Councillor Mandeep Nagra defended the draft budget.

“It’s safety we’re buying, and you know people are ready to pay for the safety. They want Surrey to be the safe place, and that’s what we’re doing.”

McCallum is not expected to comment on the draft budget until after the public hearing, City of Surrey communications manager Oliver Lum said last week. The Now-Leader has requested comment again this week.

The finance committee will decide if the draft budget will go to regular council for approval.

The draft financial capital plan budgets $45.2 million for Surrey’s new police department transition. The plan allocates $84.4 million in “additional” operating costs on top of the expected one-time transition costs. With contingencies added, that equates to $129.6 million over the five-year period.

READ ALSO: Disappointment, frustration after Surrey council votes to approve budget Dec. 17, 2018

For the second year in a row, there are no new police officers on the city’s books for 2020.

And no new firefighters are to be hired next year, if the budget is approved, “due to the priority in establishing” of a new police department and to keep “tax increases to a minimum.”

Further, the plan calls for a hiring freeze at city hall outside of staff required for new facilities to open, such as the Clayton Heights Community Centre.

Staff note in budget documents that “this is not a long term sustainable strategy” and state that “further staffing adjustments may be made during the course of 2020 if service delivery demands increase beyond what has been anticipated.”

Annis said Tuesday the budget will increase housing costs, kill plans for community centres, parks, pools, rinks, road maintenance and much-needed police and firefighters.

“This budget is saying very clearly that as a city we’re going to cost you more and give you less,” said Annis in a release. “The mayor and his four supporters on council have nothing on their radar screen but the SPD and this budget is simply about making sure every dollar we have goes to the cost of transitioning to a new police department.”

As for the arts, the capital plan allocates $500,000 in 2023 for the Surrey Little Theatre relocation and $350,000 for renovations of the Surrey Arts Centre in 2022.

While the five-year plan allocates more than $133 million to capital projects, there is no mention of several postponed projects postponed in the 2018 budget cycle, including a community centre and library in Grandview Heights, as well as the acquisition of land for a performing arts centre in City Centre.

“It’s absolutely laughable,” said Ellie King, founder of the Royal Canadian Theatre Company, last week. “We’re not even in the game. It’s very disappointing.”

“We have basically one functional arts centre,” she lamented. “I’m speechless.”

The Draft Five Year (2020-2024 Financial Plans (General Operating, Capital and Utilities) public hearing on Monday Dec. 2 will begin a 1 p.m. in council chambers in City Hall.

After the presentation, the public can provide comments. Also, written comments will be considered up to and including Thursday Nov. 28, by 4 p.m. These should be addressed to Chair, Finance Committee, City of Surrey, 13450 104 Avenue Surrey, B.C., V3T 1V8, or by email to clerks@surrey.ca or by fax (604-501-7578).

-Files from Tom Zytaruk

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