SURREY — The Surrey Board of Trade is “cautiously” supporting Surrey’s proposed property tax increase this year.
On average, Surrey homeowners can expect an $88 increase this year.
The bill for the average single-family home – valued at $671,000 in 2015 – is set to jump from $1,771 to $1,859 this year.
It’s a move the city has made as it grapples with paying for public safety increases while maintaining the capital projects it has on the books.
This is the second year in a row Surrey City Council plans to raise taxes they didn’t mention along the campaign trail in the 2014 civic election.
SBoT CEO Anita Huberman said the group supports the increase “for additional policing costs and investment in infrastructure and community amenities to enhance Surrey’s livability.”
The city had originally planned a 2.9 per cent property tax increase for 2016 but on Feb. 10, Surrey’s Finance Committee approved a property tax increase of 3.9 per cent, meaning a $70 jump for the average single-family residence.
The committee also approved an increase to the Road and Traffic Levy, introduced as a temporary measure in 2007, equivalent to about $18 for the average single-family residence.
Fee increases of 3.9 per cent – for things such as licenses and recreation fees – were also approved and Surrey plans to continue with its controversial cultural tax introduced weeks after the 2014 civic election, a flat $100 levy, which has been renamed a “capital” tax.
When introduced, the flat cultural tax was slammed by critics for hitting lower-income and middle-income families hardest.
The finance committee had previously approved increases to utilities to the tune of $27.50 per year for the average single-family home. That includes water, sewage and drainage, with annual increases of $15.60, $8.88 and $3 respectively, approved on Nov. 23, 2015.
City council must still give the budget the green light.
“It was a tough budget for us to ensure we address public safety,” said Coun. Tom Gill, chair of Surrey’s Finance Committee, on Monday. “Our challenge with this budget was to determine whether we were going to continue with our capital program.”
A few big projects are on the books over the next few years, Gill said, pointing to the $45-million North Surrey Arena replacement, new sheets in Cloverdale to the tune of $30 million and a $40-million rec centre in Clayton.
Meanwhile, increases to public safety totalled nearly $16 million for 2016, which included the cost of the 100 new officers the city has requested and 16 more this year.
There were other “significant cost pressures” in public safety, Gill noted, including pension and benefit adjustments with RCMP and fire services.
“It’s easy for us to continue to sing the mantra of 2.9 per cent plus the one per cent road levy, but when we’re looking at ensuring we have amenities be built throughout the city, that’s where we’re at,” said Gill.
Last November, Gill put blame on previous councils, saying the current regime was now “playing catch up” with respect to capital projects.
Gill assured he’s been thorough with this budget so as to hopefully avoid future surprises. Moving forward, the 3.9 per cent property tax increase is planned.
“I’m very certain that over the next number of years, we’ll be able to continue with the planned increases. That’s where I spent a lot of energy to ensure the community has some reassurances that the plan will be able to handle the future cost pressures,” said Gill.
Despite the increases, Gill said Surrey still is still the lowest-taxed municipality in the region.
“I do appreciate it’s always tough when we do have tax increase but we are a growing city,” said Gill. “We want to make sure this community has the best amenities. That’s something I’m sticking to my guns on.”
New funding for 2016, according to the plan, will come from the property tax increase (bringing in an estimated $11.6 million), revenue from growth ($5.5 million) and another $5 million from the other increases.
When it was revealed that Surrey would be raising taxes late last year, Jordan Bateman of the Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation said a lot of people in Surrey must be wondering, “if the city’s growing so fast, why aren’t the proceeds from that growth helping to pay for these things?
“Part of the reason we need more cops in Surrey is because we have more people move there. You would think they would be paying into that system to contribute. Where is all that money going?”
He also slammed Surrey’s recent hiring of a public safety director, who has an annual salary of $170,000, calling the position, “just another layer of bureaucracy.”
During the election campaign, the two opposition parties – Safe Surrey and One Surrey – had promised to freeze taxes for two years. Both had also committed to cutting spending (by three per cent and one per cent, respectively).