Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum is sticking to his guns that Surrey will not repay $56 million — more like $40 million, he says, and likely not even that much — that was reportedly already spent on setting up light rail in this city before his newly elected council decided to scrap that plan in favour of expanding SkyTrain along Fraser Highway.
“We have said very clearly to TransLink that we don’t intend to pay that,” McCallum told the Now-Leader on Friday morning. “I’ve been very consistent on that. They were trying to say that they’d need money and we’re just not going to pay it.”
McCallum told the Mayor’s Council on Regional Transportation on Thursday that land transfers, rather than cash, might be the answer to Surrey compensating for costs arising from the cancellation of light rail in this city.
“We will look at doing some land transfers to make it work because that will save TransLink money because they would have to buy the land,” he told the Now-Leader on Friday, “and it will also save the province money because we won’t have to use the money that’s part of the amounts that the governments have given to us to build light rail, so we’re willing to work with them but we have no intention to pay money.
“Our staff, which was part of the light rail before we got elected, is indicating to us and to TransLink that we won’t be paying any of that because those expenditures that they have in the report weren’t approved by Surrey and in fact were the direction of TransLink, the province and the previous mayor’s council, so those have nothing to do with the City of Surrey,” McCallum explained.
Surrey’s mayor argues that the $16 million Bear Creek bridge is TransLink’s responsibility, not Surrey’s, for the purpose of running B-line buses along King George Boulevard, “and so that shouldn’t be part of it, and that leaves roughly $40 million left.”
“Those amounts shouldn’t be charged to Surrey,” McCallum said. “TransLink has to buy land when they build SkyTrain and they also had to buy land, quite a bit, in fact a lot more land with the light rail, and they haven’t negotiated that yet.
“We don’t, first of all agree with the $40 million — they’ve got a line in here that says ‘business case, $21 million,’ for example. Well, I don’t know any business case that costs $21 million so we need to know more about that. But what we’re going to do with TransLink is negotiate with them on the land, and we will probably provide land in exchange for the $40 million — that first of all, we don’t agree with it — but second of all, we’ll just use the land to trade off the expenses that they’re saying.”
McCallum had said in October that Surrey has “no intention of paying that, and that it’s “Translink’s problem, and it’s their mistake because they didn’t do any public consulting.”
Anita Huberman, CEO of the Surrey Board of Trade, said Friday that the mayor’s council’s request for compensation from Surrey is “a good move” and “it’s only fair, given the shift in transportation planning in Surrey.”
“What he (McCallum) indicated yesterday, and I don’t know if this was discussed with council, and would need to be approved also at the council level, is instead of a cash payback it would be a land or asset payback from the City of Surrey in lieu of the money spent.”
Would that be good for business here?
“I don’t think so,” Huberman told the Now-Leader. “Because number one, we should be focusing on Surrey, it’s infrastructure investment. Why are we selling off, or trading our land assets, because of a shift in transportation planning? We have been so starved in terms of investments into our city. We are now going to have to wait again for transportation investment.”
Does she think Surrey residents are going to be worrying there might be a tax hike on the horizon as a result of this?
“It’s going to be a concern, absolutely,” Huberman said. “Utility rates are increasing, everything is increasing next year, and everyone is watching their bottom line, they don’t want to spend any more money. This mayor has indicated though that property taxes will not increase, which means cuts to other services or investments in our city.”
McCallum says that’s a red herring, though. He’s expressed concern about Surrey’s debt load – “very much so, it’s a serious issue, very serious,” he says — but Surrey residents should not worry about a tax increase as a result of this matter with TransLink.
“No, it’s not going to happen,” he said. “You’re not going to see, it’s not going to affect Surrey at all.”
— with a file from Katya Slepian and Amy Reid.