Frank Bucholtz Surrey column

AND FRANKLY: Rising taxes amongst reduced services a curious thing

Municipal services are significantly curtailed, but taxes keep going up, writes Frank Bucholtz

It’s a curious thing that, at a time when municipal services are significantly curtailed, taxes keep going up.

Surrey has already passed its 2021 budget, with a 2.9 per cent tax increase. Council also boosted the capital parcel tax from $100 to $300 per property, so some councillors say the effective tax increase is actually between 11 and 14 per cent.

Delta is considering a 2.9 tax increase, while White Rock is considering a 4.28 per cent tax increase.

Meanwhile, most municipal recreation facilities remain closed, or open in a very limited fashion. Hundreds of staff members have been laid off, and access to services – even at city halls – is limited.

One White Rock couple found this out the hard way. They had called city hall, trying to make an appointment to get parking passes. Their call was not returned after several days, so they went to city hall – but could not get in, and could not even make an appointment for a future date while talking to a city employee over an intercom.

The Surrey budget has come in for a lot of attention, largely due to the continuing controversy over the new Surrey Police Service.

Other areas of the city’s budget have been cut, which some say is to help pay for the new police force. The Surrey RCMP budget will be $45 million less in 2021 than 2020 – yet there is no set date for the new police service to take over.

Chief Norm Lipiniski has been hired and will receive an annual salary of $285,000, plus potential bonuses. Also hired are three deputy chiefs, three superintendents and six inspectors.

How and when the rest of the police force will be hired has yet to be properly explained. Some will certainly come from the current ranks of Surrey RCMP and other local RCMP detachments, and some from municipal forces in the Lower Mainland – but will that be enough?

There certainly is not enough time for the rest of the force to receive training at the Justice Institute, which is required for new municipal police officers. Nor should the new police force be mainly made up of new recruits. A large police force needs to have a good mix of experienced and newer officers.

The lack of transparency about the total cost and make-up of the new police service has fuelled a lot of suspicions and rumours among Surrey taxpayers. While the police board has released some information, a lot of the details remain unknown.

The parcel tax increase in Surrey, which was approved by council in a 5-4 vote, is supposed to fund a new sports complex in the city centre area to replace North Surrey Recreation Centre.

It is also supposed to fund some park improvements. City parks are among the few city services that have been completely open this past year – and they are being more utilized than ever.

White Rock’s proposed tax increase is being criticized as too high. Given the lack of services available this past year, this is an accurate criticism. However, city costs – particularly wages – go up every year, pandemic or not.

Other services also cost more, just as they do for everyone else.

It is questionable whether the vast majority of taxpayers – property owners, businesses or renters – pay much attention to tax increases. Few compare their tax bills from one year to another. Property owners pay far more attention to their annual assessments (mainly to see how much their property value has gone up) than they do to their tax bills.

That’s a big reason why cities can and do boost taxes each year.

Frank Bucholtz writes twice a month for Peace Arch News, as well as at frankbucholtz.blogspot.ca – email frank.bucholtz@gmail.com

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