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Are Surrey Taxpayers Being Muzzled?

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City of Surrey Staff have been spotted taking down the “Keep the RCMP signs” from the front of people’s property. There are many schools of thought on this. Technically, as many properties have City of Surrey easement and Right of Ways registered on title, the staff are within their rights to removed anything on that right-of-way.

They have also been accused of removing the signs from people’s personal property. Again technically, the signs could be interpreted as a violation of the city’s sign bylaw. So technically the city may be within its rights to remove the signs but morally, are they doing themselves and the taxpayers a service by attempting to quash what is an obviously growing movement.

It is becoming more and more apparent that a growing number of taxpayers in the City of Surrey are against the Mayor’s plan to transition from the RCMP to a city police force. There are a multitude of reasons for this. Some believe that the RCMP are the better choice in policing, ignoring or overlooking the problems which seem to be systemic in the way some RCMP transactions have gone down.

Most agree that there needs to be better local accountability and there is a growing movement toward funding the police in a different way and using some funds to give police better support in dealing with addiction, poverty related crime, homelessness and mental illness.

Some believe that city police are going to be better. When asked why, the only answer that I have gotten is “better accountability” but when pressed for a clearer understanding of how that accountability will work, I am told “police board” which in theory could work but under the RCMP, we also have the ability to have a police board so I find myself back where I started.

What is not disputed is the fact that this will cost taxpayers a significant amount of money.

What is also not disputed is that with COVID 19, many taxpayers in the city are struggling to survive and any future financial plan from the city needs to take that into account. Many in the city think that the transition is possible but that it should include taxpayer input, be done over a longer period of time allowing for an easier financial transition and there should be more transparency on the project.

The issue is trust.

We have lost trust in our some of our elected officials because we feel our voices are not being heard or considered. Some would say we have lost faith in some of our police forces, both city and RCMP because of things we see on social media. And yes, many posts about how good the police are, and heart-warming stories also exist out there, but the majority of people are watching the world, the protests and the issues and extrapolating them into life here in Surrey.

However it must be pointed out that the RCMP have received 80% plus support in the polls. The petition to keep the RCMP is over 45,000 names and counting which is more than the number of votes that put the Mayor in power.

It is true that this was their platform but it could be argued that it was a symbolic vote without all the necessary information. I think most agree that the process has been flawed – there has never been a corporate report nor has there been a feasibility study, even though Wally Oppal recommended one. Those studies are important in determining the best steps for moving forward.

So, we have many issues and a lot of shouting voices, but the question is this…

Are taxpayers being muzzled? Some have said that taxpayers are trying to “redo the election” and that it is refreshing to see politicians “keeping their word” when it comes to campaign promises. Others are saying that decisions made regarding taxpayers’ dollars should include the voices of all the taxpayers and not just those who voted for your party.

They are demanding a “fair system” where their voices aren’t targeted and shut down at council meetings. They want the Mayor and his four councillors to play by Robert’s Rules of Order and not run roughshod over legitimate motions put out by those elected councillors not on his personal cheering team.

Taxpayers want a say in how their tax dollars are spent.

And so, the “Keep the RCMP” movement grows, and more and more signs are going up. Some have erected signs simply to demonstrate their right to free expression and without a real heart in the fight. They believe that if taxpayers voices are being ignored then they should join the fight for the right to put up a sign and demonstrate in a real way that they will not be silenced. Others firmly believe that the RCMP belong in Surrey and they will continue to put up signs, regardless of how many are taken down.

Some hang the signs from their chimney and dare city employees to step on their property. One woman has her sign right on the easement line and a pressurized water hose at the ready, for anyone that dares to touch it. She claims it is to water her roses with, but the water pressure will take the paint of sidewalk, so I am not so sure.

The question is one of fairness. City workers have been caught on camera removing only the “Keep the RCMP” signs but ignoring all the other signs in the neighbourhood that also contravene the sign bylaw, so it is obvious that this is the only group being targeted.

Again, this is an issue of fairness. The fact is that many signs contravene the city bylaws and for the most part they are ignored. Even one city of Surrey councillor has signs which appear to contravene the city bylaw, on city easement and city property advertising his business. This is walking distance from where taxpayer’s Keep the RCMP signs were removed. Why aren’t his signs taken down?

Regardless of where you stand on the argument, people want equitable treatment with regards to signs. And taxpayers will find a way to be heard. Especially as they are getting their property tax bills in the mail and currently seeing an increase in property taxes with a noticeable decrease in services.

With swimming pools and civic centres all closed, funding for the arts dried up, and parks closed, even non-political people are questioning the need to spend so much money on a police transition when there are so many other needs in the city. I believe that taxpayers have a right to put up their signs and express their opinion. They should have been able to be heard by their elected officials, but they were shut down.

They should have gotten responses to their letters to their elected municipal officials but only a few responded. They should have been heard by the provincial officials but their silence on this issue has been deafening. While some have responded and some have made public statements, most have tiptoed whistling, away from the issue.

Taxpayers have legitimate questions about cost and the direct effect it will have on their family finances and those questions deserve an answer. Taxpayers want to be part of a process that will affect how crime in their neighbourhood is handled and what kind of model policing will take.

They want to know where the new police will come from and who will train them. They want the ability to speak into the process and participate in discussions about how things are done. They want the transition, if done, to be done in a way that doesn’t put the public at risk.

Taxpayers want their voices to be heard. On both sides of this fence, taxpayers need to be part of the process and not have one decision shoved down their throats while the other side laughs. Nor should the voices of those who want city police be shouted down by those against. Proper, respectful, informed discussion needs to take place with both sides listening with listening ears to what the other has to say.

Until this happens, we will continue to see chaos and dysfunction at the council level. We will continue to have taxpayers flooding the mailrooms of elected officials, municipally, federally and provincially and we will continue to see signs going up all over Surrey that say, “Keep the RCMP”.

It would be wise for the Mayor to allow taxpayers their signs. This isn’t going to go away. Their voices are becoming louder and stronger and it would be wise for every elected official, on all levels to figure out which side of the fence they are on and quickly because the time for accountability has come.

Let your voice be heard. Write a short, informed, respectful letter to your elected officials and give them your reasons for what you think. This is your money and your city. It doesn’t belong to outsiders, special interest groups or politicians. It belongs to you.

Shara Nixon loves to hear and repeat the stories of people’s lives and cultural viewpoints. She enjoys deep conversations and people who hold strong viewpoints. In her day job she is a social worker for business owners, helping them meet their goals. As an insomniac, she writes at night to clear her head. She is punctuationally challenged and uses too many !!!. She also believes in creative spelling as an art form. Her super-power is in connecting like-minded people and communicating with an intent to learn instead of respond. She writes about relationships, business savvy, online dating, finance and general things that piss her off. Shara believes that key to peace is education and connection!!!

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Essential services continue throughout pandemic Surrey Road Crews are prepared for winter road conditions

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Surrey, BC – As the winter months approach, City of Surrey road crews are prepared for snow and ice conditions to ensure everyone gets to and from their destination safely. Salt supplies have been replenished at the City’s 17,000 metric ton salt shed, fleets have been winterized and snow response technologies have been activated.

“In these times of uncertainty, one thing that remains is our commitment to the safety and well-being of all of our residents. Ensuring that our 4,000 kilometers of main roads are safe and passable during the winter season is a top priority,” said Mayor Doug McCallum.

“This is no small task, but our staff are prepared and ready. As we have learned from the Covid-19 pandemic, it takes a community effort to keep everyone safe. So, please, do your part to clear snow and ice from sidewalks outside your home and prepare your vehicle for winter driving.”

The City’s comprehensive winter road preparedness strategy includes:

  • A diverse 73-unit winter maintenance fleet, ready to clear snow and de-ice over 4,000 kilometres of roadway
  • Three strategically located materials handling facilities, including an industry-leading 17,000 metric ton salt shed
  • State-of-the-art technologies, such as the Road Weather Information System, Traffic Camera Network, and Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) Turn-by-Turn Route Assistance, all functioning together to establish the strongest municipal snow fighting network in the province
  • Community outreach innovations like the Snow removal address look-up, Surrey Plow Tracker, and Traffic Data Hub to help residents make informed travel decisions, based on snow clearing priority route

The City’s focus is keeping priority roads as clear as possible to support public safety, ensure emergency services can respond quickly, and to maintain public transit and vehicle travel on main arterial roads. The City uses a three-level priority system:

  • Priority one roads include arterial roads, major collector roads, bus routes and hilly areas
  • Priority two roads include access routes to secondary roads which connect local traffic with arterial or major collector roads
  • Priority three routes include the remaining residential roads, which are addressed in a systematic manner, starting with identified problem areas, once all other roads are cleared.

When snow falls, the City is reminding the public to help to keep sidewalks and streets safe by:

  • Clearing snow and ice from sidewalks adjacent to their properties by 10:00 a.m. every day
  • Readying vehicles with snow tires and stocking winter gear likes shovels and salt before snow arrives
  • Giving snowplows plenty of space to work by storing vehicles in garages or off priority routes
  • Clearing storm drains of leaves and snow to prevent flooding
  • Reporting non-emergency snow and ice service requests to surrey.ca/request
  • Planning ahead with tips from surrey.ca/snow webpage and by tuning in to City social media channels for the latest news

More information about the City of Surrey’s snow removal and ice control plan is available at surrey.ca/snow.

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Proposed Surrey City Budget A Public Safety And Financial Minefield: Councillor Linda Annis

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City budget is going in the wrong direction with taxpayers picking up the tab

Surrey First Councillor Linda Annis says the proposed 2021 city budget now before council is a “public safety and financial minefield” that will hurt the city and cost taxpayers now and in the years to come.

“This budget includes a massive property tax increase, more than $130 million in borrowing, and a $45 million cut to the RCMP,” said Annis. “In addition, we’re actually borrowing $7 million to pay operating expenses, something every business and family in Surrey knows is no way to stay afloat or manage your home or business. We’re literally spending more than we’re taking in and that always costs taxpayers in the long run.”

Annis said the draft budget, the incredible tax increases and the city’s struggling finances are connected by a straight line to the growing cost of the mayor’s proposed police department where every available dollar, even during the pandemic, is being syphoned off to pay the growing cost of the SPD.

Annis said the budget “should go back to the drawing board” because it is not ready for a council vote and needs a serious rethink. “When you go through the numbers and you look at the direction of this budget I think we’re headed in the wrong direction, all at the expense of our taxpayers,” noted Annis.

“These are tough economic times for residents and business owners alike and any tax increase just adds more sleepless nights for people trying to make ends meet. For instance, the mayor’s commitment to limit the increase to 2.9 per cent is one more broken promise, particularly when you see that the parcel tax is tripling. In 2020, the parcel tax raised $17 million, next year it will raise an expected $49 million, and over the next five years it will take in some $248 million. Guess who is paying that? Tripling the parcel tax means homeowners with a $700,000 home will face an overall tax increase of approximately 15 per cent while a home worth $1 million will see a tax increase of almost 12 per cent.”

Annis said the $45 million cut in the RCMP budget means the RCMP will be out of money by October 1, and she questions whether the mayor’s proposed Surrey Police Department will be completely up and running by the end of September.

“I look at the proposed transition schedule and process and frankly I think this arbitrary cut to the RCMP puts public safety at risk in our city,” explained Annis. “That cut to the RCMP assumes the RCMP will be transitioned out and the SPD will be running things. But there are a lot of assumptions in that schedule and I definitely see serious holes that put our city at risk. Even the SPD chief recognizes that the transition is a long and complicated process, something the mayor has never understood or taken into account.”

Annis said she supports hiring more police and firefighters, but has serious concerns about the draft budget sitting in front of council.

“Essential expenses for more firefighters and police will always have my support, but I look at this draft budget and frankly I don’t like what I’m seeing,” added Annis.

“These are not normal times, people are struggling, and so are our city’s finances which to me means taking the budget back to the drawing board and coming down on the side of taxpayers.”

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Budget 2021 Pairs Fiscal Responsibility With Strong Community Investment

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Surrey, BC – The City of Surrey’s proposed Budget 2021 has set a general property tax increase of 2.9%, which is consistent with the rate that was set by Council in the two previous budgets.

Despite the challenges that have been brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, Surrey’s Budget 2021 is balanced in accordance with the Local Government Act and the Community Charter.

“It has been Council’s approach to manage our public dollars prudently and it is a testament to the economic strength of Surrey that we have been able to bring in a fully balanced budget that holds the line on property taxes. The rate set in the 2019 and 2020 budgets was 2.9% and is, once again, the rate proposed for the 2021 budget,” said Mayor Doug McCallum.

“There is no question that COVID-19 has hit all of us hard economically and Council recognizes the importance of not increasing the burden to our ratepayers. The adversity that we face now with the pandemic will eventually come to an end, and Budget 2021 plans for life after COVID by investing in public projects in the form of facilities, parks and other infrastructure projects. Surrey has weathered the economic storm caused by COVID and Budget 2021 puts us on a steady and stable course to navigate the new year and beyond.”

Budget 2021 proposes a Capital Parcel Tax increase of $200. Below are some of the projects that will benefit all citizens of Surrey that the levy will help fund.

All of the following projects are budgeted to ensure work can get underway next year:

  • Newton Community Centre & Land Acquisition
  • City Centre Sports Complex – Phase 1
  • Bear Creek Park Athletics Centre
  • South Surrey Athletic Park Track Replacement & New Artificial Turf Field
  • Crescent Park Studio/Building Renovation
  • Outdoor Volleyball Courts
  • New Park Shelters
  • Newton Athletic Park Walking Track
  • Sunnyside Reservoir Pickleball & Bike Park
  • New Park Washrooms
  • Biodiversity Preserve Park Improvements
  • Trail & Path Development
  • Crescent Park Studio/Building Renovation
  • Outdoor Volleyball Courts
  • New Park Shelters
  • Cloverdale Sport & Ice Complex
    with 2 sheets of ice (budgeted for 2022/23)

The operating budget for police related services, which include the Surrey Police Service, was forecasted at $189.6 million in the 2020 budget. City staff has been continually reviewing this item as more information became available and has recalculated the operating budget for police related services for 2021 at $184.1 million, a decrease of $5.5 million from the projection in the previous budget cycle.

“On behalf of Council, I would like to thank all of our city staff for the steps they have taken to ensure that the core services and programs are delivered in the most cost effective manner during this time of pandemic,” said Mayor Doug McCallum. “I want to give a special thank you to the staff of the City’s Finance Department for their comprehensive and meticulous work on Budget 2021.”

The full Budget 2021 document can be found here.

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2021 Proposed Surrey City Budget, 2.9 per cent Residential Tax Increase Just The Start: Councillor Linda Annis

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Flat rate parcel tax increase paid by all homeowners will hurt moderately-priced homes the most

Surrey, B.C.: Councillor Linda Annis says Surrey’s proposed city budget for 2021 will see residential tax increases well beyond 2.9 per cent promised by the mayor, and will hurt moderately priced homes and their owners the most.

“The 2.9 per cent increase is just the tip of the iceberg,” said Annis. “With this proposed budget you can expect to see your tax bill climb by much more than 2.9 per cent, particularly if you live in a moderately priced home. For instance, the flat rate parcel tax is going to triple from $100 to $300, and because it’s a flat rate it will burden moderate and lower-priced homes and their owners the most.”

Annis said the proposed increases come at the worst possible time as insolvencies across Canada climbed by 19 per cent in September, the highest number since COVID-19 began impacting the economy in March, and some 760,000 Canadians have deferred mortgage payments during the pandemic.

Annis explained that the flat rate parcel tax charged each year is distinct and separate from property value taxes and is to be used only for infrastructure. It cannot be used to recover general administration costs. No matter the value of your home, every home pays the same amount for a parcel tax.

“I believe the mayor wants to use the parcel tax to finance community facilities that would normally be financed out of your property taxes,” added Annis. “But because of the growing costs associated with the proposed Surrey Police Department, the one city budget item that hasn’t been hit by the cost of COVID-19 belt tightening, those dollars are not there.

While we closed pools, rinks and rec centres and laid off staff across the city that wasn’t the case for the proposed SPD which just kept on spending, including using city staff without properly charging their time to the police transition which helped to hide real police costs.”

Annis said the tripling of the parcel tax means homeowners with a $700,000 home will face an overall tax increase of more than 15 per cent while a home worth $1 million will see a tax increase of almost 12 per cent.

“Because the parcel tax is flat right across the board it will impact residents with moderately-priced homes the most,” said Annis. “With so many people and businesses struggling financially because of COVID-19, it’s hard to justify these kind of increases right now, particularly when we’re diverting every possible dollar to the police transition costs at the expense of other city services.”

In addition to taxes climbing well beyond 2.9 per cent Annis, said this year’s budget process continues to reflect the mayor’s complete lack of transparency and consultation with the community, “something that has become a hallmark” of this particular mayor and his four remaining councillors.

“The city is also borrowing money to build new capital projects and normally that would not be an issue,” noted Annis. “However, with the city increasing taxes, it begs the question about the current state of the city’s finances.”

Annis said the public can provide comments on the proposed city budget at an upcoming city Finance Committee meeting to be held Monday, November 30 at 2:00 P.M.

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City of Surrey Welcomes $15 Million In Joint Federal & Provincial COVID-19 Relief Funding

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While the City of Surrey has and continues to find ways to mitigate economic pressures created by COVID-19, the pandemic has nevertheless created a strain on the City’s finances.

Today, the City of Surrey welcomes and is grateful for the nearly $15 million in federal and provincial funding from the COVID-19 Safe Restart Grant for Local Governments.

“The City of Surrey has been working hard to safely navigate through the turbulent waters created by COVID-19,” said Mayor Doug McCallum. “The $15 million in funding today helps to stabilize the sound foundation we have built for the city’s fiscal house.

I want to extend my sincere thanks and appreciation to the federal and provincial governments for their support to Surrey and all municipalities. This new funding ensures that Surrey will continue to operate in a position of relative strength despite the challenging circumstances.”

Under the COVID-19 Safe Restart Grant for Local Governments, the City of Surrey has been allocated $14,769,000. This funding will support local government facing increased operating costs and lower revenues due to COVID-19. Eligible costs include:

  • Revenue shortfalls
  • Facility reopening and operating costs
  • Emergency planning and response costs
  • Bylaw enforcement and protective services, like fire and police
  • Computer and other electronic technology costs to improve virtual communications and interconnectivity
  • Services for vulnerable persons (such as persons living with disabilities, mental illness or addictions, persons experiencing homelessness or other vulnerabilities)
  • Other related costs
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