Surrey mulls how to raise taxes

Council looks at hiking property tax rather than bumping flat tax by $10
to make increase ‘more equitable’

Surrey City Hall

SURREY — Though city staff recommended a $10 increase to Surrey’s controversial “capital parcel tax” to help pay for civic amenities, city council instead directed staff to explore a 0.54 per cent hike on property taxes.

The decision was made during the Finance Committee meeting on Monday.

Councillor Tom Gill, chair of the committee, said some of his colleagues on council felt an increase to property tax would be “more equitable” seeing as it’s based on home value and not a flat tax.

But, Gill added, “I just want to be very clear, I was supportive of increasing the levy by $10. I was supportive of the recommendation.”

The flat $100 capital tax, established in 2014 weeks after Surrey First swept into all council seats, was criticized by some for being unfair and hitting low-income residents the hardest. It was a move the city made as it grappled with paying for public safety increases while maintaining the capital projects it had on the books.

“The idea was to create a funding mechanism that would have restricted funds used for civic amenities,” said Gill.  “Historically, one of the challenges the city has had is that we were behind in terms of infrastructure – whether it’s a rec centre, or a pool, or an ice rink. If you look at the overall investment that we’ve made in the last decade, it is significantly more than the previous decade.”

In the last 10 years Gill said his slate has made major investments such as the award-winning Grandview Heights Aquatic Centre and City Centre Library.

Going forward, the city plans to continue on that path, with many large project in the works including a $52 million North Surrey Arena replacement, a new $41.8 million Clayton rec centre, a $35 million twin sheet arena Cloverdale, as well as a $10 million Surrey Museum expansion.

As it stands in the budget right now, a 3.9 per cent property tax hike is planned plus another one per cent increase for the Road and Traffic Levy, which was introduced as a temporary measure in 2007.

Gill said it’s unclear whether the planned 0.54 per cent increase for the capital program will now be in addition to the 3.9 per cent planned.

Those decisions will be made when city council considers the operating budget, which is expected to happen on Dec. 21, said Gill.

“We will have a very wholesome discussion,” he noted.

Earlier this month, the Finance Committee considered utility increases, which are expected to rise by approximately $22 for the average single-family residence ($13 for water, $5 for drainage and $4 for solid waste).

The solid waste increase is to support new initiatives in 2017, according to a city report, including service to high-rise customers, expanding existing services to curbside customers, increasing waste collection education programs and enhancing illegal dumping enforcement through surveillance technologies. The report notes that in 2016 the city brought down costs associated with illegal dumping by 40 per cent (by more than $400,000).

Last year, the city originally planned a 2.9 per cent property tax increase but the finance committee approved an increase of 3.9 per cent to pay for public safety increases while keeping up with planned capital projects. The bill for the average single-family home – valued at $671,000 in 2015 – jumped $88 for 2016, from $1,771 to $1,859.

amy.reid@thenownewspaper.com

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