Surrey budget proposes 9.5% property tax increase for policing transition costs

The plaza between Surrey's City Centre Library and City Hall. In its draft budget for 2023 to 2027, the city proposed a 9.5 per cent General Property Tax increase. (Kathryn Marlow/CBC - image credit)
The plaza between Surrey's City Centre Library and City Hall. In its draft budget for 2023 to 2027, the city proposed a 9.5 per cent General Property Tax increase. (Kathryn Marlow/CBC - image credit)

The City of Surrey has released its draft five-year budget Saturday, proposing a property tax increase of 16.5 per cent for 2023 to cover costs largely associated with the transition of its police force.

In a news release, the city said the 2023-2027 draft operating budget was created without a decision on policing in Surrey, but relies on the presumption it will retain the RCMP as the police of jurisdiction.

The city says maintaining the Surrey RCMP will cost about $235 million less over the next five years compared to proceeding with the transition to the Surrey Police Force, but "there remains a shortfall of $116.6 million created by the transition process."

To account for that, it says the budget proposes a 9.5 per cent General Property Tax increase, which means the average single-family household can expect to pay $219 more in property taxes next year.

Surrey Mayor Brenda Locke told CBC News that the 9.5 per cent increase will be maintained for each of the next three years to offset the policing transition costs.

"It is certainly not a budget that I am happy to deliver but it's a budget that we need to deliver," Locke said.

The Surrey Police Service (SPS) says they believe in their progressive policing model submitted to the province, but refused to comment further.

"SPS has repeatedly disputed the financial numbers offered by those opposed to the policing transition," a spokesperson for the police service said.

Surrey can 'ill afford' to proceed with police transition: mayor

The budget comes about three weeks after Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth said the director of police services wanted more information before deciding on the city's plan to revert to the RCMP as its police force.

The new Surrey city council voted in December to send a plan to Farnworth, requesting to keep the RCMP, while the Surrey Police Service asked him to reject that plan, saying halting the transition would mean firing 375 employees, dissolving two police unions and accepting "unrecoverable'' costs of $107 million.

Locke, who campaigned on maintaining the RCMP, said in the news release that the policing transition "experiment'' is now costing residents and businesses.

"The money wasted by the policing transition, combined with the so-called 2.9 per cent property tax rate for four years implemented by the previous council, means we are now having to play catchup on core city services, such as the hiring of firefighters and bylaw officers,'' Locke said.

"Surrey can ill afford to continue with the police transition and we are starting to set our finances straight with this budget," she said.

The budget also proposes a seven per cent property tax increase to cover general inflationary pressures for city-wide operations, and for the hiring of an additional 25 police officers, 20 firefighters and 10 bylaw officers for 2023. This means an average single-family home can expect to pay an additional $161 in 2023.

Locke also said they plan to bring back the one per cent road and traffic levy, which the city implemented up until 2018 — meaning an average single-family home will pay approximately $23 for better transportation infrastructure.

"Our roads are in a pretty challenging space right now," she said.

"We need to fix that."

'Another hit to the bottom line'

Anita Huberman, president of the Surrey Board of Trade, said while it's unclear from the proposed budget what businesses will have to pay in additional taxes, the business community "always bears the greatest burden of taxation."

Huberman said businesses and manufacturers in B.C., and mainly in Surrey, have faced as high as a 150-per-cent tax increase yearly in the past three years.

She added that the proposed draft comes at a time when businesses are faced with great inflationary pressures, labour shortages and other challenges.

"This is just another hit to the bottom line that really remains uncertain right now for the business community," she told CBC News in an interview.

Huberman also said the money spent during the transition of police forces was a waste.

"There was really no evidence that a new police force would reduce crime."

'A boondoggle as far as the taxpayers are concerned'

Carson Binda, the B.C. director for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, says both businesses and residents are worried about the rise in tax rates.

"That's an astronomically high tax increase the taxpayers in Surrey just can't afford right now," Binda said.

The cost of housing is one of the biggest issues in the Lower Mainland, he said, and raising taxes on homes that many cannot afford will drive people away from the region.

"It's making the problem astronomically worse and it's making Surrey less attractive for young families and new Canadians who should be able to call Surrey home," he said.

He says there's a lot of blame to be shared for the city's "horrific financial state" amidst policing transition costs.

"Say what you will about the transition from the RCMP to Surrey Police Service, then back to the RCMP, what's clear is that it's been a boondoggle as far as the taxpayers are concerned," he said.