The Safe Surrey Coalition majority on city council denied a motion this week that was intended to provide temporary tax relief to residents who are having a hard time paying their bills because of the pandemic.
The motion, defeated on a five-to-four vote, was presented to council on May 10 by Councillor Brenda Locke. It called on the City of Surrey to invoke an alternative municipal tax collection scheme for 2021 that would delay the penalty date to Oct. 1 from midnight July 2 for property owners who fail to pay their taxes on time.
Those who don’t are hit with a five per cent penalty after July 2 and another five per cent after Sept. 2.
Locke noted an “awful lot” of people are struggling. “I think whatever relief the city can do to assist in that would be advantageous to them. A lot of the programs that were around before are not there, and so I hope that council will look at supporting this initiative.”
Councillor Linda Annis called Locke’s motion a “very worthwhile endeavour” that the city should approve as many residents are “struggling financially, particularly those who can least afford to (pay their taxes). Many people are laid off – I know it wasn’t as bad as last year, but it isn’t good still.”
Councillor Jack Hundial noted market reports indicate unemployment across Canada is at eight to nine per cent and the nation is still behind in recapturing job losses. “I certainly will support this – I think it will provide some temporary relief.”
“I really do believe in the Surrey taxpayer, that they will come out and certainly support the city despite the tax increase we had this year and the increase in the levy,” Hundial said. “There’s added pressure on people this year that wasn’t there last year. But, you know what, I think it’s the right thing to do and certainly Surrey can be one of the leaders right now, in this local municipal area, to come out and say you know what, we will consider what we did last year to help our residents.”
Councillor Laurie Guerra said that while she agreed with comments her fellow councillors made she wouldn’t support the motion “at this time” because she thinks the city needs to “take the lead of the province” on this. “I don’t believe we should tie our city to an initiative where we are made to pay taxes towards the other authorities, whether it be the province or Metro, if they don’t do a similar alternative tax collection time.”
“Maybe I’d like to revisit it at another date.”
Councillor Mandeep Nagra said it’s his understanding the city collects property taxes for other levels of government as well. He asked city staff if council could approve Locke’s motion without the approval of Metro and the provincial government.
Kam Grewal, Surrey’s finance manager, replied the city would still be obliged to send the funding on to different levels of government. “I do also want to point out to council that from a timing perspective our tax bill, we’ve been working on the last six to seven weeks, and we will be in the process of printing those bills in 10 to 12 days.”
Timing, Grewal said, would pose a significant challenge. The province is not making any changes in 2021 like it did last year, he added. “Financially there would be an impact to us from a cash flow perspective as well.”
Councillor Steven Pettigrew said that while this might result in a “possible” burden on the city, “that’s our job, is to take the burden off of the taxpayers.
“There’s some really, really struggling people out there and for some of them, this could be the difference between food or rent,” he said. “I feel we should give them the chance. My suspicion is a that a majority of Surrey taxpayers will continue to pay their taxes on time.”
Councillor Allison Patton said the city is receiving a “signal” from the federal government of “recovery and optimism and we need as leaders in this city to demonstrate that that’s the positioning of where we’re heading, and that we’re hopeful, that we’re optimistic, and that there’s leadership in that.”
“I think we need to move forward as planned, support our finance manager, support the fact our bills are already printed,” she said.
Mayor Doug McCallum said “this is too late to do – and you heard that from our finance manager.
“The second thing is, when it was done last year, it came as a result of approval by the province that we could do it and I have not seen that approval this year,” he said. “And I think also no other city in the region is looking at doing it so I think overall we’ve been able to manage our money the best of any city in Canada. We know that because we have come through with a bit of a surplus last year, in a very difficult year.”
That, McCallum said, was because most Surrey taxpayers paid their taxes on time.