Taxes in Surrey are set to soar next year – equivalent to a 10-per-cent increase – as the city grapples with cost pressures associated with an election promise to hire 100 more police officers.
Surrey is planning to keep property tax increases at 2.9 per cent next year – or $46.20 for the average home worth $648,000.
However, the increases don’t stop there.
In fact, combined hikes planned for next year’s tax bill are $162.
Other fees and levies are being added, largely due to a $15-million election promise of bringing in extra RCMP officers in 2015.
Surrey staff are recommending the creation of a recreation and culture levy of $100 per home.
That would generate $16 million annually for the city.
In addition, a one-per-cent road levy introduced in 2007 as a temporary five-year measure will likely continue for another 10 years, according to Coun. Tom Gill, who is an accountant and chair of the city’s finance committee.
The one-per-cent road levy amounts to a $15.93 increase for next year.
In all, the taxes for the average Surrey home will be climbing from $1,593 this year to $1,755 next year.
If the home has a secondary suite, it’s going to get even more expensive.
Surrey is planning to raise the secondary suite fee $116 to $526 per home – a 28-per-cent increase.
The secondary suite fee hike is explained by increasing costs associated with the bylaw department, police force and fire services.
There was no mention by Surrey First during the fall election campaign that it would either reduce capital construction or introduce a levy to pay for it.
In fact, the coalition said more police officers would be paid for in part by revenue from growth ($5.2 million), portions of secondary suite fees ($13.5 million), Surrey City Development Corporation Dividends ($4.5 million) and electronic signage ($1.4 million).
Gill said there were other cost pressures that came as a surprise, including a benefits increase to the RCMP and a pay increase to Surrey firefighters totalling $6.5 million, part of which the city was expecting.
The promise to hire 100 police officers was the largest cost pressure, Gill said, adding that in his nine years as chair of the finance committee, this has been the hardest budget to prepare.
“This one is by far the most difficult,” Gill said Tuesday. “It is a hard pill to swallow.”
The $15 million needed for the 100 additional police officers planned for next year put a squeeze on the money available for capital construction, Gill said.
The opportunity exists to forestall that construction, but Gill said he wants no part of that.
“One of the things I did not want to do is minimize the capital program as we move forward,” Gill said. “In fact, one of the things I’ve always been supportive of is enhancing it.”
He said some of the big projects coming forward include reconstruction or relocation of the North Surrey Recreation Centre (estimated $45 million); twin ice sheets for Cloverdale ($35 million, or $45 million if land needs to be purchased); and a recreation facility for Clayton ($20 million).
“We had two choices,” Gill said. “Either we could go back to the philosophy of creating no infrastructure, and that’s something I’m not supportive of,” or the levy.
“By creating this levy, it becomes a dedicated fund, and those funds cannot be sort of repatriated to any other area of the budget,” Gill said. “They need to be used for that specific use.”
In the recommended budget, Surrey residents are also looking at modest increases to their utility bills.
Water costs are going up to $421 (up $9.68) for the average home, sewer is climbing to $290 (up $11.98) and drainage is going up $12 to $213.
Mayor Linda Hepner said she wants to keep property taxes the lowest in the region.
“I haven’t brought that budget forward yet… I’ve got to go over that with the city manager,” Hepner said Monday. “I’m hopeful that the tax rate stays the same, (but) I have to look at some of those levies to see where we are on those.”
Jordan Bateman, B.C. Director of the Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation, said it’s disappointing news.
“A lump sum recreational fee makes no sense. You actually have a way to make that tax relatively progressive by looking at the assessed values.”
Everyone agrees Surrey needs more cops, he said.
“But when you’re told in an election campaign there are ways to fund it without raising taxes, and then a week after taking office, you flip-flop on that, it kind of smacks of the old HST (Harmonized Sales Tax).”
Shortly after winning the 2009 provincial election, former Liberal premier Gordon Campbell introduced the HST. Public furore was loud and decisive.
Campbell, deeply marred by the introduction of the tax, stepped down the following year.
Bateman also said the 28-per-cent hike in secondary suite fees flies in the face of any helpful position Surrey might want to take on affordable housing.
“Complaints about affordable housing by any Surrey politician should be immediately dismissed,” Bateman said. “Because they’re making housing less affordable by increasing secondary suite fees.”
Renters will see hikes because of the increases, he said.
The budget plan goes to the finance committee on Monday, Dec. 15 at 3 p.m.
Several community groups have already told The Leader they will be attending.
The five-year financial plan will be available at this link when the city uploads it.