Surrey’s budget shortfall of $42.1 million for 2020 that was forecast in the city’s first quarter financial report has been knocked down to $29.6 million in the second quarter forecasts for this pandemic year.
Kam Grewal, the city’s general manager of finance, revealed in a corporate report that came before council on Monday, July 27, concerning the budgetary shortfall, or “unfavourable variance in program revenues” that the $12.5 million difference now forecast is made up by $1 million in “higher than budgeted” traffic fine revenue, $2.9 million in “higher than expected” revenue from application fees and permit revenues related to engineering services – general operations, and $3 million in “higher than expected” revenue out of the Parks, Planning and Department.
Grewal also noted that $2.5 million is forecast in “higher than expected revenues as compared to first quarter forecast,” related to the city’s planning department, “as a result of better than expected permit, inspection and application revenues.” There is also, from the corporate services department, $2.2 million in “higher than forecasted” revenue compared to the first-quarter forecast “due to stronger revenues from business licenses.”
Mayor Doug McCallum noted Surrey is Canada’s 12th largest city and that he sits on the Big City Mayors Caucus. “All of the cities are not meeting their budgets” during the pandemic, he said. “I can tell you of all the big cities across Canada, that we’re the lowest amount that’s losing money.”
McCallum said Surrey has encouraged developers to continue building during the pandemic. In fact, city council during Monday’s land use meeting approved $692 million in development projects, with industrial warehouses, residential highrises, rental apartments and townhouses among them.
McCallum said some of those projects given the green light to proceed “are along the corridor of the new Surrey Langley Skytrain extension and they align with Council’s Smart Development strategy that calls for new development to coincide with the construction of transit, schools and other amenities.”
Among the projects approved were a six-storey apartment building with 162 townhouses, two residential towers and a mid-rise rental building, a six-storey apartment building and 55 townhouses, a three-storey rental apartment building and four-storey rental apartment building containing 104 units combined, and a four-storey rental apartment building featuring 156 units.
“The figure as of today is not $42.1 million but it is only at this stage $29.6 million. That’s a savings of roughly $12 million off of our budgets. We expect as we finish the year we will even be below that figure.”
“It’s a tremendous achievement, I can tell you,” McCallum said. “A big huge credit has to go out to our staff to be able to drive that figure down to only $29 million at this stage.”
“Because we’ve been able to drive that figure down to $29.6 million we will not be dipping into the Green Fund at all for picking up or for savings any money.”
Councillor Laurie Guerra said it’s “absolutely fantastic” how Surrey’s revenue forecasts are projected “to be so much better.
“I just want to say that I’m really proud of the mayor, us councillors and staff especially in terms of what we’ve done to fare through this unprecedented pandemic,” she said.
Councillor Allison Patton echoed that. “I can’t seem to find the negative in these very difficult times and so that’s very heartwarming because all of us have been working very hard since March, when a lot of this hit,” Patton said.
“I just again want to commend us all and our citizens because in the paper I see helping hands all over the place, trying to help each other in terms of what we can do for each other in these times.”
Councillor Linda Annis said the $1 million in traffic fines collected by the RCMP should go toward public safety programs. She noted Parks and Recreation’s forecasted $3 million in higher revenue comes “as a result of keeping our facilities closed beyond what was mandated by the provincial health authorities.” Annis said she’d like to see recreation facilities, including swimming pools and ice arenas, “get opened in a phased and responsible manner, but I think we need to be doing it sooner as opposed to later.”
As for the policing transition budget, Annis noted “all of our programs in all of the other departments were hit hard. I’d like us to give some consideration to spreading the pain throughout the whole organization, not just selected ones.”
Councillor Brenda Locke also took aim at the transition from the RCMP to a city police force. “If we’re not opening up ice arenas for kids, we should also be looking at pulling back on the transition, even just a little bit.”
Councillor Jack Hundial’s comments were not as “cheerful,” he said, as some others.
“Look, we had to lay off almost 2,000 people to achieve this,” he noted. “We had to cut back our own library budget by $5 million, which is one quarter of its entire budget as we’re doing this. Certainly our facilities have saved money by being closed. To me, one of our core responsibilities as a city is to try to keep the civic facilities, keep the basics open.
“Let’s not forget,” Hundial said, “that this money that we’re saving, it’s actually taxpayer money. People pay money into this city to use the facilities, to have good roadways.
“Let’s also not forget that we’ve got four more months left in this year, and we don’t know what the final number is going to be yet,” he said. “There may be a second wave coming as well.
“Before we get too cheery, we need to be mindful of the average person out there who is not making the wages we are.”