On December 22, the Surrey Board of Trade presented our observations on the City of Surrey financial plan for 2022-2026, and government budget recommendations on December 23 at the City of Surrey Finance Committee meeting.
“The Surrey Board of Trade monitors public sector spending to maximize productivity in the economy and encourage growth in the private sector,” said Anita Huberman, President & CEO, Surrey Board of Trade. “The City Budget is important as we evaluate whether Surrey’s tax rates are conducive for business growth, retention and infrastructure investments. This year, especially in light of the pandemic, we predict that with increased fees from the City of Surrey, their capital parcel tax and other taxes from other levels of government that businesses will face a significant hit on their property tax bills in 2022.”
SURREY BOARD OF TRADE CITY BUDGET HIGHLIGHTS:
More time is needed for the public to review the budget and to provide input. This year’s timeline was unacceptable and warrants a full review and communication to the public as to why this process and timeline were implemented this year.
2. SURREY NEEDS TO APPOINT AN AUDITOR GENERAL
An Auditor General, reporting to Council, independent from management, reports on how well the City manages its revenues, expenses and capital investments from the perspective of economy, efficiency and effectiveness of City activities. Bottom line: Did the taxpayers receive good value for the money spent?
Surrey says that it offers one of the lowest tax regimes, but our concern with this budget and financial plan is the intrinsic and increased fees on services to create a balanced budget and to drive revenue. For example, the development cost charges are set to increase significantly in 2022, driving up the cost of housing. The capital parcel tax continues on top of all of this. Businesses are very concerned about their property tax bill in 2022.
We observed that discretionary contributions, which includes community amenity contribution reserves, green city, and other reserve funds paid by the development community are to be increased yet again next year.
a. Cannabis investments in Surrey could lead to a needed revenue stream for the city budget.
b. Great work on digitization and streamlining efficiencies.
c. There is an opportunity not realized by the City of Surrey to create long lasting, respectful partnerships with our Indigenous communities for economic development that could drive revenue to benefit the City – residents and businesses.
d. For the capital asset loan that was approved in 2021 to fund capital build projects in Surrey, what are the loan terms – are they fixed or are they a variable interest rate? Will this increase costs in 2022 as interest rates and inflation are expected to increase in 2022? Have any contingencies been taken into account?
5. DOWNLOADING OF COSTS TO SURREY
The Surrey Board of Trade recommends reporting on the downloading of costs to the City by different levels of government. There could be a model for new opportunities and new working models for taxpayers and stakeholders to understand the amount that Surrey taxpayers are supporting costs previously paid by senior governments and agencies. Although this may be difficult, we recommend that a report of the costs to the City be done that illustrates clearly what downloading looks like.
6. GREEN CITY FUND
The Green City Fund is supposed to be used to enhance the green space within our city, but our concern is that this money could be made liquid and used for other purposes. There is a lack of transparency as to which projects are being funded by these substantial dollars paid by developers and builders. We want to ensure a livable city.
7. PUBLIC SAFETY
The City Budget, again, chose not to increase the RCMP officers in our growing city because of the public safety infrastructure shift from the RCMP to a municipal police force. The BC Government has capped the number of Surrey Police members that can be hired for the new Surrey Police Service (SPS) in 2022. Businesses want a livable city. We do not have the number of police officers to ensure public protection levels are adequate to police a growing city. Surrey does not have adequate public safety resources. The Police Act provides that the Province of British Columbia must ensure that an adequate and effective level of policing is maintained in our province.
Continued funding shortfalls and realizations of the need to spend funds on public safety training facilities and other related infrastructure is very concerning to businesses. How will this be covered – through more fees to businesses for services that they access through the City of Surrey?
In November 2021, the SPS Board’s Finance Committee released a financial report to the SPS Board of Directors. It was unusual in its disclosure style and content.
Compared to the City’s police budget figures in the City’s 2021 Annual Plan Report issued in June 2021, it presents materially different values.
Council and taxpayers would expect that the SPS Board of Directors were given the 2021 values set out by the City’s annual financial plan approved by Council in December 2020.
Recommendation: Council should request a report from the Police Board reconciling its 2021 operating budget to that approved by Council.
8. ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT
We must make strategic investments now, not only in parks and recreation centres, but also cultural corridor investments, a performing arts centre, tourism assets, convention centre infrastructure, hotel room business attraction, transportation (road improvements and expansions), and more.
9. HOUSING AND WORKFORCE DEVELOPMENT
A comprehensive housing strategy needs investment, in alignment with land use and transportation throughout Surrey, as part of a comprehensive un-siloed economic development strategy. There is an opportunity to partner with non-profits to build affordable housing by reducing fees and further expediting the permitting and approvals process for these developers.
a. Identifying Road Priorities
The Surrey Board of Trade was pleased to work with the City of Surrey this past year on our annual Surrey Road Survey, identifying roads/walkways/bikeways that are a priority to Surrey businesses. The results will be released at the end of January 2022.
b. Road & Traffic Safety Utility Levy:
The lack of an increased Roads & Traffic Safety Levy for 2022-2026 is a problem. This is the third year that the road levy has not been increased. The Surrey Board of Trade asks Surrey Council to revisit this decision.
c. Workforce Transit
The City of Surrey needs to implement an employment lands transportation plan in conjunction with TransLink and Metro Vancouver. For example, the Campbell Heights area will be a large source of jobs, however, there is little transit investment in the area. We recommend that the City of Surrey reprioritize their transportation strategy to bring adequate transit to Campbell Heights, possibly partnering with private sector partners and showing leadership and innovation in this area.
11. ENVIRONMENT AND CLIMATE CHANGE INVESTMENTS
In November 2019, the City embarked on a Climate Change Emergency Strategy process, covering flood management and drainage, infrastructure, ecosystems and natural areas, urban trees and landscaping, human health and safety, and agriculture and food security. This brings to the forefront new ways of putting in place measures to achieve success in each area. The November 2021 floods in British Columbia bring home the risks of not being prepared. Regional and provincial issues, policies, and restraints brings complexity and risks to our city’s climate change actions.
Council, residents and business taxpayers require independent information on how the City manages this important higher emphasis, and associated costs on its climate change processes in the years ahead. Independence can be provided through a robust Auditor General process.
President & CEO, Surrey Board of Trade