SURREY â€” Surrey council heard from the public Monday regarding its plan to raise the average tax bill by $162 for 2015.
Resident concerns varied, including how the tax increases would affect low-income families, that Surrey First didn’t speak of the increases during the recent civic election and that the secondary suite fee jump would result in higher costs for renters, thus diminishing the city’s affordable housing stock.
If approved, the average tax bill for a single-family home assessed at $648,000 would increase to $1,755 next year, up from $1,593 this year.
Included in the increase is a new $100 cultural and recreation levy, a one per cent road and tax levy ($15.56 for the average homeowner), as well as a 2.9 per cent property tax increase ($46.20 for the average homeowner).
The $100 cultural levy is proposed to pay for the city’s capital projects, as the city looks at a $3.9 million bill for 2015 to hire the 100 new officers Surrey First promised during the election and a $3.7 million increase for fire services due to a new contract signed this fall.
On top of tax increases, the city plans to increase fees by 3.9 per cent, which would include things like rec centre admission costs.
Secondary suite fees are also set to jump, from $410 to $526, a move said to bring it in line with taxes paid for a one-bedroom condo.
One resident said her family is being stretched too thin, and already can’t afford projects such as replacing fencing. The increases are unfair, she argued, and will be devastating for her family.
Resident Linda Stromberg, who is also a Surrey Library board chair, said the new cultural levy came "as a complete surprise" as there was no indication during or prior to the election that funding culture and rec projects would require a new tax, or an increase in fees.
"Both the $100 levy on residential property owners and the user fee increase for parks and rec put an unfair burden on families who are already stretched," she said, later adding, "We need to encourage the use of these facilities for the health and well-being of our citizens, not discourage their use by increasing fees."
Stromberg would like to see the city consider alternative funding sources, suggesting a levy on business.
She also suggested the city increase fees for certain bylaw infractions.
Stromberg took issue with the secondary suite fee increase proposed.
"Affordable housing and availability of rental stock was brought up during the election as a concern. Increasing taxes for secondary suite increases costs to the renter and I oppose this."
Surrey Environmental Partners president Deb Jack commended the city for the recently adopted Biodiversity Conservation Strategy, but called for the city to establish an environmental planner/co-ordinator position to ensure it’s implemented.
Jack also said SEP would like the city to create three large "living legacy parks," as large or bigger than Green Timbers or Sunnyside Acres.
As well, she asked council to consider a levy for the purpose of acquiring lands in relation to biodiversity conservation.
"The time is now to do this. Surrey is running out of natural areas to acquire," she noted.
Comments on the budget, which has not yet been officially adopted, will be taken up to and including Dec. 22.