SURREY — Taxes are set to rise by $137 for the average Surrey home this year.
The city’s Finance Committee endorsed the hikes at a meeting on Monday.
The jump includes a property tax increase of $72 (or 3.9 per cent) for the average single family dwelling, assessed at $720,400 this year in Surrey. It will “predominantly be used to offset increased public safety resourcing and expenditures,” according to a city report.
There is another property tax increase of about $10 (or 0.54 per cent) for the average single family dwelling that will be used to support the city’s capital plans. This increase is to the city’s controversial $100 Capital Parcel Tax, introduced in 2014 weeks after Surrey First swept into all council seats.
An increase to the road and traffic levy of about $18 for the average single family dwelling is planned, and utilities are set to rise an average of $37.
Though the increases haven’t been officially approved in a city council meeting, the Finance Committee is made up of all of council so its endorsements typically pass.
Additional funding needs in 2017 for public safety are $13.4 million, according to a city report, and total 2017 funding needs are $29 million. The report notes the increases will be funded by a combination of property tax increases ($14.5 million), revenue generated from new growth ($6 million) and a 3.9 per cent fee increase and other revenue changes ($8.4 million).
The report notes public safety continues to be a “critical priority” for Surrey and the city plans to add 12 Mounties to the force in 2017 (at a cost of 327,000), bringing the total number of members to 831. This year’s budget also includes a more than $1 million expense for the annualization of 16 RCMP members added last October.
Other significant RCMP increases includes a more than $1 million increase for 2.5 per cent salary increases and nearly $3 million increased funding for Integrated Teams and E Division Administration.
Another 16 officers are planned to be added annually for 2018 to 2021.
The 2017 financial plan also includes the addition of three new bylaw officers, set to commence work next June, as well as a new bylaw support clerk. And the city plans to continue with the Newton Community Safety Patrol, which saw four community officers hired who focused in that town core.
Meanwhile, the city has many large capital project on the books, 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.
Councillor Tom Gill (pictured) said these large civic investments are crucial, given one third of Surrey’s population is under 19.
He said keeping youth on the right track “is not always to do with policing and RCMP. Being proactive is very important.”
Gill noted previous councils before he was elected didn’t make many large civic investments and said the city is still “playing catch up.”
“We are creating a new city,” he said. “We’re creating opportunities. We’re embracing change. Now we also need to understand that this (young) demographic coming through the system, we need to have the supports for them to become successful and pursue opportunities.”
That’s part of why Surrey First brought in the Capital Parcel Tax, he added, “so those funds are restricted for that particular use.”
Gill said even with Surrey’s proposed tax hikes, the city will likely be one of the lowest in the Lower Mainland again.
“The question always comes up – is that a good thing or a bad thing? If you are at that lower level, is it understood that perhaps there are certain civic amenities that are not being delivered, and is that the wish and the desire of the community? That’s always a tough conversation to have.”
New this year, Gill is pushing to provide “additional transparency” on tax invoices, showing residents what portion of the city budget is spent on public safety.
“If you only have one amount you see on your tax bill, you’re not sure if the dollars are going where they need to go,” he said.
“The intent is to show residents what our costs are associated to…. RCMP and the public safety office, fire services and bylaw enforcement,” Gill added. “The other thing I’m working on is to be able to articulate what we spend on parks, recreation and culture given that’s the single largest category outside of public safety in terms of a department.”
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.