Surrey city council has approved a staff recommendation to amend the Freedom of Information bylaw to approve a new $150 fee for processing “routine requests” for attendance records at Surrey’s facilities.
This came before council on Monday July 13 and was approved by the five Safe Surrey Coalition members.
Councillors Steven Pettigrew, Linda Annis, Jack Hundial and Brenda Locke voted against it.
Hundial said obligating Surrey taxpayers to pay for this information “to me does not seem transparent, and at a time when transparency is key for all levels off government, including local government.
“I don’t believe we should be charging a fee for a resident to ask questions that they otherwise will not be able to obtain or really get the answers that they need for their own decision-making processes.”
Councillor Brenda Locke also voted against it.
“I think that a flat fee of $150 for an FOI request without specifying the number of pages that’s being asked for is a bit unfair,” she said. “I think transparency is already an issue, in my opinion, with this council and therefore residents are gaining insight into what we do by FOI and I think the public does deserve to know what we’re doing and so if that’s how they have to find out the information, I believe that they are entitled to that.”
Council heard that these FOI requests take anywhere from 30 minutes to eight hours to process and that the $150 fee was arrived at based on the cost of staff time, on average, to respond to these requests.
Locke asked staff if there has been an increase in the number of FOI requests over the last year and a half.
She was told the number has increased steadily over recent years and there will probably be more requests this year compared to last year.
Council was also asked to approve amendments that would “accurately reflect” city staff titles and their responsibilities.
The FOI bylaw was adopted in March 1999, under Mayor Doug McCallum’s watch. Rob Costanzo, Surrey’s general manager of corporate services, noted that many staff job titles have changed since then.
Costanzo said the city commonly receives requests for attendance records at its facilities. “These requests are typically related to personal injury claims where, for example, law firms are required to prove attendance or non-attendance of their clients at city recreational facilities,” he stated in a report.
The city had been providing these records at no cost. Costanzo said a flat fee of $150 per request will help the city recover related administrative costs and be subject to annual budgetary increases.