Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum in just over 31 minutes sang the praises of his administration – as can be expected in any mayor’s State of the City Address – in a glossy presentation intended to drive home his message that Surrey “is earning accolades from near and far.”
McCallum delivered his 2021 State of the City Address on Tuesday, streamed virtually on Facebook and YouTube Live. It was his second since he was elected in 2018.
“Despite the events of 2020, Surrey has not only withstood the strain of COVID, but has become stronger and more resilient because of it,” he said.
There wasn’t an address last year on account of the pandemic. In 2019, McCallum used the occasion of that year’s State of the City Address to showcase a $15,851 prototype of a Surrey Police Service cruiser.
“While it’s nice to be lauded, it’s more important not to rest on your laurels,” McCallum said. “It’s vital we keep up the momentum we have built up in Surrey. That’s why council is always planning ahead, to keep this city moving forward.”
In 2021 and beyond, McCallum said, Surrey will see major infrastructure projects such as the 84th Avenue connector (connecting King George Boulevard with 140th Street, at the south end of Bear Creek Park), the King George Bailey bridge replacement, the widening of 32nd Avenue, and upgrades to the Colebrook dykes.
“The inventory of our recreation facilities will be increased with the completion of the Newton community centre, the city centre sports complex and the Cloverdale sports and ice complex,” he said. “Long-overdue improvements to Bear Creek Park that include a new covered grandstand, new turf field and the upgrades to the popular walking and running tracks.”
McCallum said a new riverfront park is “in the works” on the south bank of the Nicomekl River “and we will be building new trails and paths for use throughout the city.”
McCallum said last year the city did not take on any “additional” debt to balance its books, that it has held property tax increases to 2.9 per cent for three years in a row, that it has become “too big” not to have its own police force, and says he “fully expects” to see Surrey Police Service “boots on the ground” before the end of this year. He also said Surrey is a member of the “World Tree Program” for a second year now and has taken “significant steps” to increase its urban canopy.
For every plateau reached, McCallum said, “there is another level for us to scale and conquer.
“In other words, I am always looking ahead to see how we can build and propel Surrey forward. Like a perpetual motion machine, Surrey is constantly moving.”
Anita Huberman, CEO of the Surrey Board of Trade, said that while there are some “great” things going on in Surrey, “as articulated,” the property tax bill will hit residents and businesses in a couple of weeks and “what was concerning in his speech is he said there would be only a 2.9-per-cent property tax increase.
“We know that’s not true when so many businesses face as high as a 150-per-cent property tax increase, for example our forestry businesses,” Huberman said. “The second thing is that we had called initially, early on in the pandemic, for relaxation on property taxes, support for restaurants in terms of a patio piece, and finally they did it this year but last year was when businesses really needed it. I think there’s a lot of concern about community consultation, listening to stakeholders and also recognition of the work that community stakeholders do in terms of advocating for these pieces. So I just feel frustrated about that too.”
Surrey city Councillor Brenda Locke said while she agrees with McCallum that Surrey is a “great city with great promise and great opportunity,” she thinks it’s “disingenuous” of him to say the city is holding taxes at 2.9 per cent “when we know we are going to have a significant capital parcel tax coming.
“I think he should have mentioned the capital parcel tax because that it is a significant tax that we’re going to be imposing on the residents and they’re going to get that very soon.”
During his 2019 address McCallum presented a “to do” list that included beginning work on the creation of a city-made police force to replace the RCMP, and to begin work on extending the SkyTrain line in Surrey to Langley City from King George Station.
Other items outlined in his 2019 speech included implementing “smart” development, allowing no development in the Agricultural Land Reserve, eliminating a backlog in building permits, holding property tax increases to 2.9 per cent, and bringing “transparency, accountability and fairness” to city hall by establishing an independent ethics commissioner, among other highlights.
“When I was elected as mayor, I had two priorities in mind,” McCallum said during his first address in May 2019. “The first was to quickly deliver on the wishes of the people of Surrey who gave us the mandate to govern, and the second was to make sure the City of Surrey is continually moving forward by having council, on behalf of the people, do what is best for our city. The work we have done is just the beginning and we will continue to seize on the momentum we have created to ensure that Surrey is constantly advancing and flourishing.”