After just more than three days to review the budget, Surrey residents and council got their chance to have input in the city’s Five-Year (2022-2026) Financial Plan.
During a daytime meeting Wednesday (Dec. 22), the City of Surrey held a sparsely attended finance committee meeting that featured fewer than a dozen speakers. The main point of contention was the lack of time to prepare and thoroughly dissect the budget.
The budget was released publicly late Friday and the deadline for written comments was 4:30 p.m. Tuesday.
A release from the city also notes the budget has “been built for a post-pandemic future by delivering new major public amenities and services for residents of the fastest growing city in B.C.”
In the 2022-2026 budget, the city states there are nine new projects being funded: a police training facility, a third field hockey turf and change room at Tamanawis Park, Crescent Park pickleball courts, Fleetwood fire hall #6 relocation, a bus layover facility, new park washrooms, park improvements, disc golf at Port Mann Park and site development for a future sport facility.
#SurreyBC finance committee just starting. GM Finance presenting the budget now.
— Sebastian Sajda (@sebastiansajda) December 22, 2021
— Anita Huberman (@anitahuberman) December 22, 2021
Anita Huberman, speaking on behalf of the Surrey Board of Trade as its CEO, called the timeline “unacceptable,” adding that more time was needed to provide input.
South Surrey’s Sarah Rush said the budget wasn’t delivered in a timely manner to fully study it.
“Four days at this busy time of year is not enough,” Rush said. “There is an obligation to allow taxpayers to have their say and we do not feel that we had enough time to properly look and have our say.”
Meantime, during votes on the separate corporate reports, Coun. Brenda Locke said council owed it to the public to give them more time.
“I don’t think we’ve given anywhere close to the amount of time people want and deserve to truly consider what is before us,” Locke said.
Coun. Linda Annis echoed that, noting that residents are typically given 10 working days to review the budget. This time they were given were two.
However, Mayor Doug McCallum said “a number of factors” cause the budget to be later this year, but he maintained that the budget “always comes down to the last council meeting in December.”
“We’re basically right on schedule.”
One of the reasons for a later budget, he noted, was that staff worked “extremely hard” to complete four major union contracts: CUPE, RCMP, Surrey Police Service and firefighters.
The 2.9-per-cent property tax increase
A release from the City of Surrey touted that “for the fourth consecutive year the property tax increase has stayed at 2.9%, making it one of the lowest among Metro Vancouver municipalities.”
The budget report states a “property tax rate increase of approximately $63 for the average assessed single-family dwelling that will predominately be used to offset increased public safety resourcing and expenditures.”
However, earlier this year, many residents and businesses were shocked to find out their property tax hike was far greater than the promised 2.9 per cent.
Rush said that while $63 is the anticipated increase, she did the math and found it “slightly questionable.” She said it “will be more like $100 at least.”
“Now that may not sound like very much, but we do have a duty to be as accurate as we can when we put budgets forward and I don’t believe that was an accurate figure,” she said.
“There’s no point in saying that any increase is just 2.9 per cent if other taxes are going to be added and excluded from that number just to make the tax increase from Surrey look lower that anybody else’s.”
Later on in the meeting, Coun. Jack Hundial asked the city’s general manager of finance Kam Grewal if he could pull together by Friday’s (Dec. 24) meeting the average increase for homeowners that would include Metro Vancouver costs and other additional items, such as secondary suites.
“I think it’ll add a lot to the conversation.”
A pool in Whalley/City Centre
In December of 2019, the City of Surrey officially closed the North Surrey Recreation Centre, which housed the only pool facilities in Whalley/City Centre. Since then, pool users have been directed to the Guildford Recreation Centre, which is a little more than four kilometres away.
Amie Johnson, who used to work for the City of Surrey, said she took a look at the budget from a young person’s perspective, and one thing she did not see in it was a pool for the area in the next five years. She noted it’s a “big hole” missing in the city’s capital projects.
“That pool (the North Surrey rec centre) was taken from this community.”
— Amie Johnson (@Amie_R_Johnson) December 22, 2021
She said for teens on the Surrey-North Delta border, it was a “trek to even get here, now they just go to Delta.”
Going to Delta, Johnson said, is “not accessible. It’s not walkable. It’s not that 15-minute city concept.”
Coun. Laurie Guerra, of the Safe Surrey Coalition majority, agreed with Johnson.
“I, too, am disappointed,” said Guerra, noting the city was initially going to partner with the YMCA on a pool facility, but that deal fell through.
Guerra added she hoped with the news of the University of B.C. buying property in Surrey, and with Simon Fraser University and Kwantlen Polytechnic University in Whalley/City Centre that there could be a future “public-private partnership.”
Meantime, councillors Locke, Annis and Hundial voted against the general operating, capital program and utilities and other self-funded programs budgets. Coun. Steven Pettigrew wasn’t in attendance at the meeting.
Council has scheduled a special regular council meeting for Friday (Dec. 24) to consider final adoption of the 2022 budget.