Photo: Amy Reid From right: Mike Bola of Cloverdale Community Association and Marty Jones of Cloverdale Minor Hockey Association at Surrey’s Finance Committee meeting on Dec. 11.

In split vote, Surrey council gives early nod to draft budget

Councillors Locke, Pettigrew, Hundial and Annis vote against capital program

The Cloverdale hockey community is mobilizing for “one last push” in their effort to lobby Surrey council not to delay the planned ice complex in that neighbourhood, after council gave an early nod to the proposal Tuesday night.

The city’s draft budget, released last week, sees the new Cloverdale arena as one of several civic projects put on the back burner in an effort to reduce the city’s accrual of debt.

Surrey council, in a 5-4 vote, approved the draft financial capital plan during a Finance Committee meeting on Dec. 11, which will now move forward to next Monday’s regular council meeting.

After the vote Tuesday night, president of the Cloverdale Minor Hockey Association (CMHA) Marty Jones said he was “disappointed” that the budget is moving forward as is, “but encouraged in some ways. We have four.”

Jones said the hockey organization will now “mobilize with one last push” ahead of the vote next Monday.

“We need one last push and appeal,” Jones added.

The Finance Committee, which is made up of all of council, moved all three draft budgets moved forward (capital, operating and utilities). If all three are approved during next Monday’s council meeting, the budget could receive final reading during a special Dec. 19 council meeting.

Councillors Steven Pettigrew, Brenda Locke, Jack Hundial and Linda Annis voted against the five-year capital budget during the Finance Committee meeting Dec. 11, with some citing concerns for the postponement of the Cloverdale sports complex.

Pettigrew told the crowd he didn’t agree with many of the “additions” and “deletions” in the capital program, highlighting the postponement of the ice rink, the Grandview Heights community centre and library as well as the biodiversity conservation strategy which has “basically been gutted.”

Locke said that while it’s important to manage costs and taxes, she asked staff if it would be at all possible to include the Cloverdale rinks, set to be built along 64th Avenue, east of 177B Street, in the capital program.

“I’m wondering… if there is a way to incorporate the Cloverdale sports complex for the very reason that there has been expenditures, significant ones, already for that facility,” she said. “I would hate for us to stop that facility.”

If that wasn’t possible, Locke said, then she wouldn’t be able to support the capital program.

Staff said that in order for the Cloverdale rink to move forward, “it would require removing something of equal value.” Staff suggested revisiting the rink in six months.

Mayor Doug McCallum told the audience that discussions for the rink would be in the “next cycle” of budget discussions, which he said he “state fairly confidently that we will look at bringing Cloverdale back into the system.”

McCallum said the city realizes the need to look at building ice arenas in Cloverdale.

“We’ve heard you, very strongly,” said McCallum, adding that staff will look at “different approaches” in the new year to get the ice sheets built in next few years.

Those different approaches, McCallum said, could include building one rink “fairly quickly,” and once the first rink is up and operating, the second one would be “a few years behind.”

He also floated the idea of a possible partnership with the private sector.

The vote followed nearly two hours of public comment on the controversial budget. While much of the comments centred on the postponement of the sheets of ice in Cloverdale, some people spoke about the proposed hits to the arts community and the transition to a municipal police force from the Surrey RCMP – as well as the fact the proposal would see no police officers hired in 2019.

McCallum said “well over 90 per cent” ofof the 116 letters submitted to city hall regarding the controversial draft budget have been about the “postponement” of the new sheets of ice in Cloverdale.

The Finance Committee meeting began at 4 p.m. at city hall, in council chambers. By the start of the meeting there were dozens of people in the council chambers, including several children, with more people filing in shortly after the meeting began.

Eighteen people signed up to speak, and several others got up to speak after McCallum went through the list of speakers.

Mike Bola, of the Cloverdale Community Association, told council that when it comes to building infrastructure in Surrey, the city is “always behind.” He said in January of 2018, the work on the rink was “halted” because of the price of steel and the soil issues, adding that after months of waiting, the community was told “the cost of construction had gone up a bit and the five-year capital plan needed to be revised.”

“It is unfortunate that the plan took so long to be revised because now we’re here today where the current council doesn’t understand the need for this arena and is looking to scrap whatever progress has been made,” Bola said.

Cindy Secord said the postponement of the sheets of ice is “extremely shortsighted.” She said recreation infrastructure is an investment in the city’s children and future.

“While on paper, a reduction on capital projects deficits seems like the most responsible way to run the city’s finances, it is short-term gain for long-term pain,” Secord told council.

James Perry, a parent and coach with the CMHA, said that although he does appreciate the mayor’s earlier comments about Cloverdale’s need for additional sheets of ice, he “implores” the city to act sooner.

“Our need is not now, our need is not tomorrow. Our need was yesterday,” Perry said.

Cindy Dalglish said that privatization, as McCallum had mentioned earlier, “is not the answer.”

“We know it’s much more expensive for our families. We know that that’s not the right way to use our taxes. I don’t pay taxes for anyone to privatize public facilities, that’s not what taxes are for.”

Surrey Board of Trade CEO Anita Huberman said during the committee meeting that SBOT believes in Surrey being a cultural city. She asked the committee to advance the Surrey Arts Centre renovations, as well as move forward with plans for a performing arts centre.

“We’re willing to help with and look for private sector investment for our performing arts centre that we have been waiting for. We want Surrey to have assets where it can be a destination,” she said.

Huberman also asked council to “put a hold on the RCMP transition plan.” She said the city should “harness” its own resources and look at ways to increase judicial accountability and look at youth programs.

Karen Reid Sidhu, who runs the Surrey Crime Prevention Society, said it’s critical to invest in youth through recreation and infrastructure.

“What we see nowadays with youth and the problems that we’re having in our city and throughout the Lower Mainland, we definitely need to invest in our kids,” she said. “I’m more than willing to increase my taxes to get this done.”

Fifteen-year-old Pavendeep Nijjar from Queen Elizabeth Secondary urged council during the committee meeting to follow through with the Cloverdale rink. She said she noticed there were no other kids at the meeting.

“They’ve got to understand, this is our future in your hands,” Nijjar said.

Reid Sidhu also said that in her role with the Surrey Crime Prevention Society, she works in partnership with the RCMP.

“If we want to see success, we need to continue building our team and that means making sure that we add members to the team,” she said.

While the postponement of the rink dominated the public comment period, several people got up to speak to the road levy, the environment and the public engagement process within the draft budget.

Tim Yzerman, who was at the committee meeting to represent HUB Cycling, said the group was opposing the reduction of the road levy increase.

The proposed budget includes no increase to the Road and Tax Levy, which was established in 2008 as a revenue source to “meet the growing traffic and safety needs of the city.” It is used to maintain roads, install traffic calming measures, crosswalks, sidewalks and “reduce congestion throughout the city.”

The budget proposed to eliminate a planned one per cent increase to this road and traffic levy. If approved this move will “reduce the City’s repaving program, bike and sidewalk program, and land acquisition program by approximately $60 million over five years.”

Yzerman said the city has “a lot of catch up to do” when it comes to cycling infrastructure.

“A lot of of our infrastructure is built to a standard that’s very poor and unfortunately the standards are still not that great,” he said. “If we build new infrastructure, it would be much better and we have an opportunity to build a better city.”

Deb Jack, who is part of Surrey Environmental Partners, was critical to the proposed cuts for the biodiversity conservation strategy.

In a letter to council, Jack noted that the previous budget had “$17,839, in thousands, over five years, while this has only $225 for 2019.”

While Jack praised the city for “finally” hiring a co-ordinator to lead the Biodiversity Conservation Strategy (BCS) and Green Infrastructure Network (GIN), she urged council to fund the acquisition of lands to fulfill the strategies.

Grant Rice, meantime, said that the Safe Surrey Coalition said they would “implement a world-class public engagement process,” but discussions for the budget should go beyond a mid-afternoon meeting and should include public open houses, focus groups and online surveys.

Prior to the public hearing, strong opposition had been voiced to the possible delay of the Cloverdale arena.

During a press conference on Tuesday, Dec. 4, McCallum defended putting that facility on hold, and pointed to land stability problems which would make the project “very expensive” to build.

McCallum also said enrolment was dropping in minor hockey, and the creation of a new ice arena in Bridgeview would alleviate the strain on other Surrey rinks.

CMHA President Jones said the delay of that project would be “devastating.” Jones also said that McCallum’s statement on the decline in enrolment was “100 per cent accurate,” but he said the drop in enrolment could also be attributed to the lack of ice sheets in the community.

About 900 kids are enrolled in the Cloverdale hockey association, Jones said, and he had noticed that enrolment had been dropping in recent years. He said that became some families have to get up at 4 a.m. for ice time or stay at the rink past midnight, the hours can “alienate” some children and families from enrolling.

Jones also said that the association only has about half the amount of ice it needs in Surrey, and has been spent upwards of $2 million in ice fees outside of Surrey.

See also: Surrey mayor defends move to delay Cloverdale rink, other projects

See also: VIDEO: Cloverdale hockey parents, players rally against mayor’s plan to postpone arena

More than 100 hockey parents, players and community members attended a rally at the Cloverdale Arena last Monday to protest the proposed “postponement” of the new sheets of ice in the community.

The arts community, meantime, also voiced concerns over the draft financial plan prior to the public meeting. The proposed budget is set to postpone three substantial arts-related projects.

“To be, at this point, backing away from what little crumbs the arts community had, is disappointing,” Ellie King, managing artistic director of the Royal Canadian Theatre Company, previously told the Now-Leader.

It’s proposed the city postpone a cultural corridor for Surrey, postpone land acquisition for a performing arts theatre in the City Centre and postpone the second phase of the 10660 City Parkway arts project.

All of the proposed delays are in an effort to reduce the city’s accrual of debt, according to a report from staff.

“Over the last several years, under the direction of previous Mayor and Councils, the City undertook an aggressive Capital Program, which required the acquisition of debt,” wrote City Manager Vincent Lalonde and General Manager of Finance Kam Grewal in their report. “External and Internal Debt resulting from previously approved General Capital Programs is $316 million. Furthermore, an additional $198 million would have been required to bring the adopted 2018-2022 General Capital Program to completion, for a total debt requirement of $514 million.”

The report came after McCallum stated in a release that he was “deeply dismayed and shaken to the core” that the city was “currently” carrying a debt load of $514 million – despite part of that debt not yet having been taken on.

Now, the proposed 2019-2023 General Capital Program, the report states, incorporates a “pay as you go” approach.

“Accordingly, the proposed 2019-2023 General Capital Program reflects significant reductions to previously approved debt requirements,” Lalonde and Grewal’s report states.

The capital projects which have been proposed for postponement means a “reduction of required debt by $136 million,” it adds. By postponing these projects, according to the city report, total debt requirements have been reduced to $378 million.

With files from Tom Zytaruk and Grace Kennedy

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