British Columbia

Vancouver and Surrey city councils move forward on 2021 budgets

Vancouver and Surrey have begun moving forward on their 2021 budgets this week, which consist of both a yearly operating budget and a long-term capital budget for future infrastructure projects.

Surrey set for controversial tripling of parcel tax; Vancouver to hear from hundreds of speakers Tuesday

Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum, left, and Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart, right, are both working with their councils on the cities' 2021 budgets. (Justin McElroy/CBC)

In B.C.'s biggest cities, 'tis the season for financial debate.

Vancouver and Surrey have begun moving forward on their 2021 budgets this week, which consist of both a yearly operating budget and a long-term capital budget for future infrastructure projects.

Surrey's finance committee passed its budget on Monday, while Vancouver council is set to hear from hundreds of speakers on its proposed budget Tuesday. If things go according to plan, both will have a final vote on the budgets at meetings next week. 

The majority of B.C. municipalities typically wait until 2021 to pass their budgets (the fiscal year beginning for most in April), but the province's two biggest cities traditionally vote in December because of the complexities of their operations.

Vancouver has $1.6 billion in annual revenues, while Surrey has approximately $576 million. 

A man in a suit sits on a table in an office. A map of the city of Surrey is behind him.
Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum has defended a tripling of the city's parcel tax from $100 to $300 on the grounds it will allow the city to pay for capital projects without accumulating more debt. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

McCallum: Surrey has 'best budget I've ever seen' 

The City of Surrey's finance committee —  which includes every member of council — moved forward the 2021 budget on a 5-4 vote, with Mayor Doug McCallum and the four members of his Safe Surrey Coalition in support. 

"I've seen a lot of budgets  … and for the times, this is the best budget I've ever seen, put together by anybody," said McCallum. 

The budget includes a 2.9 per cent property tax increase next year, but triples the city's capital parcel tax from $100 to $300. It applies to every property in the city.

McCallum said it would fund a number of needed projects in the city while taking on less debt, including a community centre in Newton and upgrades to Bear Creek Park Athletics Centre. 

"We're the envy all across Canada right now. And I see it and I hear it every single day."

But not every councillor was convinced.

"I don't think this is the time," said Coun. Brenda Locke. "When you actually crunch the numbers, on a modest income some people are going to pay upwards of 12 per cent [more in property tax] or maybe more."

The City of Surrey estimates an average increase of $260 for the average single-family home next year — $60 from property taxes, and $200 from the parcel tax. 

A final vote is scheduled to take place next Monday. 

Vancouver looking at 5% increase

Meanwhile, the City of Vancouver is looking at a five per cent property tax increase next year, but has no parcel tax levy — meaning the owner of an average single-family home assessed at $1.57 million would see a $146 increase next year. 

"This is going to be a tough year for decisions around the budget," said Coun. Adriane Carr.

Council agreed early in 2020 to limit tax increases in this year's budget to five per cent, but lower revenues due to COVID-19 mean staff have recommended reducing spending on a number of areas to meet that target. 

"There's no way that it can't be anything but a compromise budget," said Carr.

Coun. Sarah Kirby-Yung said that while a lot of the increase was unavoidable due to fixed costs stemming from collective agreements, she would be looking at ways to maintain what she characterized as core priorities for the city, like street cleaning and sanitation. 

"We have to have an increase …. for meeting those collective wage agreements and commitments. Having said that, it's hard to justify much above that when people are struggling." 

In the City of Vancouver's public engagement for the budget, about 30 per cent of respondents said they wanted the police budget reduced. The city's proposal is to have it go up from $341 million to $343 million.