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Opinion: COVID-19 didn't stop Burnaby from ending 2020 with a fat surplus

Should taxpayers get a break with this 'healthy' surplus
Photograph via Getty Images

COVID-19 has laid waste to so many parts of our society, but there are still some weird and surprising things to report.

Like the Burnaby and Metro Vancouver real estate market hitting ludicrous speed (to quote the Mel Brooks comedy Spaceballs).

Residential housing sales across the country amounted to 76,259 last month, up 76.2 per cent from 43,283 during the same period last year.

Yes, you heard that right – 76 per cent, during a pandemic.

That is both weird and surprising. Something else I didn’t expect was the City of Burnaby reporting a “healthy” surplus for 2020 when things looked so dire in the early days of the pandemic that it needed to lay off staff, lower the property tax rate and extend deadlines for those same taxes.

Noreen Kassam, Burnaby’s director of finance, presented the 2020 Annual Municipal Report to council recently and things look pretty rosy.

“The City’s financial position continued to be healthy throughout 2020 with an increase in Annual Surplus of $139.0 million (2019 – $112.9 million), bringing the Accumulated Surplus to $4.7 billion (2019 – $4.5 billion),” Kassam wrote. Kassam said in the report that the 2020 Annual Surplus of $139 million is lower than the budgeted surplus of $145.3 million by ($6.3) million. This is comprised of revenues lower than budget of ($44.9) million and expenditures lower than budget of $38.6 million.

So this annual surplus was lower than forecasted, but still better than 2019 despite the pandemic.

Just wild stuff.

What I’m wondering is how that makes taxpayers feel? Are they happy because the city is on the good side of the ledger, or do they feel they deserved more of a tax break during rough times when many people are still out of work and struggling to pay their bills?

The city lost out on millions in gaming revenue with the closure of the Grand Villa Casino that continues today and still managed a surplus.

The lower than budgeted revenue is due to several factors:

  • lower than anticipated community benefit bonus contributions received from applicants largely due to market uncertainty and changes to municipal and provincial policies regulating development.
  • lower than budgeted parks program revenue, city parking and rental revenues as a result of COVID-19.
  • million lower taxation revenue mainly attributed to higher than expected prior year assessment appeals approved by BC Assessment Authority.

Let me know what you think of all of this for a possible follow up; just email

Follow Chris Campbell on Twitter @shinebox44.

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