The city’s Five-Year (2022-2026) Financial Plan was approved by Surrey city council during a 20-minute meeting on the morning of Christmas Eve (Dec. 24).
Friday, the budget’s final adoption involved a series of bylaws read by Mayor Doug McCallum and favoured by the five Safe Surrey Coalition-united councillors, and opposed by the other four, without discussion.
During a finance committee meeting Wednesday (Dec. 22), the main point of contention was the lack of time to thoroughly dissect the 65-page budget document, which was released publicly late Friday, Dec. 17. The deadline for written comments was days later, at 4:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 21.
On Friday morning, McCallum thanked staff for drafting the budget approved by the council.
“It was a difficult year with COVID-19 putting all sorts of problems in our city, but our staff have really responded creatively, positively, and dealt with the problems that COVID-19 caused in our city,” the mayor told council.
“It’s been a great year working as a city for our community, and that’s why we’re elected, that’s why staff works for us to make sure our community feels safe and that we keep our community moving forward.”
Earlier Friday, Surrey First Coun. Linda Annis said the fact that she’s putting out a news release critical of the city’s budget on Christmas Eve “sums up what’s wrong with the way (McCallum) is dealing with Surrey’s finances and tax dollars.”
She expected the mayor and the four Safe Surrey councillors to use their majority “to push through a more than $1.2 billion budget” at Friday morning’s meeting.
“In the history of our city we have never approved anything that big so quickly, with so little due diligence, no real community consultation, or even a cursory review. It’s absolutely the wrong way to run a city our size and a budget this big.”
Annis called to have an independent auditor general for “these sorts of issues.”
In an emailed letter to the Now-Leader and others, Surrey resident Heidi Greco described it as “shades of the chilly days of Ebenezer Scrooge” for the city’s budget to be decided on Christmas Eve.
“With so many unspecified details and such a complicated week for any public feedback opportunity – the week before Christmas, really – it seems the only reasonable course of action for Council to take on this snowy Christmas Eve is to at the very least defer the decision to a time in the new year when more information is available and when the citizens who will be footing the bill can weigh in properly,” Greco wrote.
“And who knows, maybe this is all just some Grinch-style joke awaiting visits from Marley and the ghost of a future that supposedly lives here.”
A release from the City of Surrey on Dec. 17 touted that “for the fourth consecutive year, the proposed average property tax rate has been set at 2.9%.”
The 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.
The 2022-2026 budget includes a number of new projects, including 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.
The report states the Surrey Police Service requires a facility to host police training, including an indoor firearms range, classrooms and other reality-based training spaces. Currently, the SPS is running its training facility out of the city-owned Surrey Operations Centre at 148 Street and 66 Avenue.
with files from Lauren Collins