Surrey City Council endorsed a five-year renewal of the Newton BIA Monday night.
Council approved staff recommendations on Dec. 17 to use the “council initiative” process to renew the business group for another term, and authorized the city clerk to bring forward the necessary bylaw to solidify the decision.
“In my opinion, the Newton BIA is an essential community building tool for the City of Surrey,” said Philip Aguirre, who has been the business group’s executive director since its inception five years ago. “Newton has evolved over the decades without too much direction and leadership, and the continued support from city council to provide a platform for the Newton Town Centre – and leadership for the Newton Town Centre – is essential for the future growth and prosperity of the business environment and residents of the community.”
The BIA’s annual levy, which has been $400,000 per year for the last five, is set to increase by $100,000 to $500,000 starting in 2019. After that, it will rise by three per cent, per year, until 2023.
That levy increase was important, according to Aguirre, who said the group stretched those dollars in their first term, finding savings in years one and two as they developed their safety platform. Those dollars, he said, were saved for later years when they launched safety patrols, contracting the Commissionaires to carry them out.
“We were very prudent with our savings,” in year one and two, said Aguirre. “I come from an entrepreneurial small business background and I didn’t think it was responsible for us to spend money without clear goals and return on investment. As a result in year three, four and five, the Newton BIA has operated with $500,000 a year (because of prior years’ savings),” which it used for safety initiatives.
Safety, said Aguirre, has “always been our number one priority” and it’s “always been the number one priority for our business membership and the community at large.”
Aguirre said when it came time for renewal, the BIA’s board of directors had to decide what to do in year six: have no safety platform with the annual budget of $400,000 remaining the same; to have a safety platform at the same budget level and instead sacrifice beautification and events; or increase the levy to maintain the same level of service.”
The board voted to increase the levy.
Prior to Surrey council voting to endorse the BIA’s renewal Monday night, Aguirre appeared as a delegation. He summarized the BIA’s work since its creation in 2014, and outlined plans for the next five years.
Aguirre told council about its Community Safety Patrol, carried out by the Commissionaires. They deal with “all low level crime” in the town centre, he noted. That program has handled 11,102 files since 2014, when it launched under the BIA’s direction, and includes daily eight-hour patrols.
While Aguirre noted Surrey RCMP statistics show a drop in crime in Newton in recent years, he said “the perception of what the community sees on the street is not a positive one.”
His presentation to council highlighted a nine per cent drop in crime in District 3 in 2016, an 18 per cent drop in 2017 and a four per cent drop so far this year. But, he told council, it takes time for perceptions to change.
During a renewal audit this year, 80 per cent of Newton BIA respondents said safety was still the most important issue, following by area enhancement (seven per cent), government relations (seven per cent) and events and marketing (six per cent).
Aguirre also told council about the BIA’s Safe Ride program (which involves free taxi rides for intoxicated members of the vulnerable population), and the BIA’s needle disposal program that’s disposed of almost 3,500 used needles. The business group also conducts an annual homeless count.
Meantime, its Team Tidy program has learned up more than 31,000 pound of garbage, the BIA has removed 886 pieces of graffiti and also planted 1,500 tulips. Aguirre summarized the various other place-making initiatives the BIA has undertaken to beautify the town-centre, including street furniture.
Annual events the BIA has launched in their first term have included a Groundhog Day celebration, a Newton Days event in the summer, “Spooktacular” Newton for Halloween, and other events, such as the BIA’s “Tour de Friends” Big Bike Ride for the Heart & Stroke Foundation.
Aguirre also summarized for Surrey’s new city council the BIA’s plans for their next 2019-2023 term.
Those plans include the continuation of the Newton “mural laneway” in which four murals have already been created, a Pop Up Business Incubator and EcoNewton, a “hub for clean technology.”
The incubator is an entrepreneurial initiative the BIA is planning in which it would support youth coming out of post-secondary who are launching small, independent businesses. The program would also welcome new immigrants.
Aguirre said he envisions vacant storefronts being used, and finding partners to support the program. In addition to space, Aguirre noted phone, internet and other small infrastructure could be provided.
“We’d have anywhere from four to 10 businesses within that location, on a short-term rotation,” said Aguirre, with the ultimate goal of “lowering the barrier of entry for new, young entrepreneurs.”
He hopes to begin the process next fall.
Also in this upcoming five-year term, the BIA intends to hire a consultant to survey Newton’s many industrial industries, a sector dubbed “Eco Newton” by the City of Surrey several years ago.
“The manufacturing area in Newton employs 33 per cent of the industrial jobs in the city,” said Aguirre. “It’s up the railroad corridor from the Newton Town Centre to 88th Avenue.”
The business group must test the sector’s appetite for inclusion in the BIA, and Aguirre said the board believes this expansion is a “good direction for Newton, to bring in all of those businesses who haven’t had a voice and leadership, period. Ever.”
The Newton BIA currently has 533 member businesses and property owners in the town centre, and levies fund 100 per cent of its operations.
Aguirre said the business group is “always focused on being progressive, focused on the future, and we’re never going to be complacent in what we’re doing today. We’re always looking at ways to evolve.”