Surrey City Councillor Linda Annis is shocked that Mayor Doug McCallum ruled her request calling for Surrey property and business taxes to be deferred – interest-free until Dec. 2 – out of order.
Annis presented her notice of motion on account of the economic outfall from the pandemic during Monday night’s “virtual” council meeting.
“He said he was working with the province on a similar initiative and that the province had to deal with it, but in actual fact the city can extend the deadline of property and business taxes in terms of when the payment is due by a simple bylaw,” Annis told the Now-Leader. “I’m quite surprised he didn’t know that.”
McCallum could not be reached for comment by press deadline.
“I’m quite concerned, I guess again, about the lack of transparency,” Annis said. “If he was working with the province on something, one would have thought he would have shared it with his councillors.”
So what now?
“I’m just going to continue to advocate for it and try to make sure that we are heard loud and clear,” Annis said. “The Kelowna city council actually passed a very similar motion to what I was proposing yesterday (Monday).”
Annis said it’s important that Surrey finds practical ways to help families and businesses in these tough times. “Losing your job because of COVID-19’s impact on our local and provincial economy is bad enough, we shouldn’t be adding more stress for families and businesses when it comes to paying property taxes.”
Property taxes are currently due on July 2, with notices going out at the end of May.
“Deferring property taxes until December is the least we can do under the circumstances,” Annis said. “It might mean we’ll have to tighten our belt at city hall for a few months, but I think Surrey’s families and businesses are worth it.”
Meantime, the City of Surrey has temporarily laid off 2,016 employees because of the pandemic.
Joey Brar, director of human resources for the City of Surrey, noted in an emailed statement from city hall Friday afternoon that since March 16 city-operated recreation centres, libraries, civic ice arenas, cultural facilities, museums and public pools have been closed on account of the virus, resulting in “temporary workforce reductions for part-time staff in Parks and Recreation and regular staff at the libraries.
“The City of Surrey is providing 28 days of pay continuity for part-time and auxiliary staff and 42 days of pay continuity for regular staff that have been temporarily laid off,” Brar said. “The temporary layoffs affect 1,276 part time/auxiliary staff who worked in 2020 an average of 2.7 hours per week prior to the pandemic. Approximately 600 part time/auxiliary staff who have not worked for the City this year but have worked some hours for the City within the last 12 months were also given notice. Many of the part time/auxiliary employees have other employment outside the City. 140 regular staff have been temporarily laid off by Surrey libraries. The staff reductions are exclusively due to the COVID-19 pandemic and are temporary.”
Annis and fellow Councillor Jack Hundial are, considering these dire economic times, calling for a halt to the city’s controversial $129-million plan to replace the Surrey RCMP with its own police force.
“How can the mayor and council look taxpayers in the eye when people are losing their jobs and having difficulty making ends meet?” Annis said. “It’s cruel and unconscionable to be spending any time or money on anything other than the health and safety of our residents.”
She said the city needs to “shelve” the policing transition “at least until Surrey and its taxpayers are back on their feet. Spending time and money we don’t have on this proposal would be outrageous in the face of what our city and our citizens are facing right now.”
Hundial said if there was “ever a time for the city to pause on any one program of this magnitude, this would be the time to do it.”
“That I believe is still in discussions with the provincial government on what kind of relief,” Hundial said, “and I suspect it will be a co-ordinated province-wide decision for that, it would only make sense for all cities to act in a same or similar manner.”
From the City of Surrey’s perspective, Hundial said, “I think we need to look at some significant belt-tightening on initiatives that need to be put on hold and that we should get ready for when there is hopefully an announcement in the future on federal infrastructure dollars coming in for those shovel-ready projects such as our rec centres, pools, roadways, to start helping the economy move again.”
Last week Surrey Board of Trade CEO Anita Huberman said local businesses large and small were “freaking out” about not being able to make rent and some landlords are kicking them out if they can’t pony up. She predicted things are going to get worse in May with the limited cash flow in the month of April.
She said told the Now-Leader last week that the board of trade would also also be pushing for property tax relaxation.
“Those bills for commercial properties are coming soon and cities are going to be compromised in terms of revenue,” she said.