City rising to growth challenges, Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts says

Sixth State of the City address underway in Guildford.

Mayor Dianne Watts addresses a crowd at the Sheraton Vancouver Guildford Hotel.

Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts told a crowd this afternoon how this city is being transformed from a suburban area into a metropolitan core.

Watts gave her sixth annual State of the City address at the Sheraton Vancouver Guildford Hotel.

Not surprisingly, she touted the city’s many successes since she was elected in 2005 and introduced several key initiatives – including the Whistleblower Policy, the newly revised Respectful Workplace Policy, the Lobbyist Registry and the streamlining of several civic processes.

She  also highlighted the Sustainability Charter, the Homelessness and Housing Fund and the Child and Youth Friendly City Strategy.

Watts  also releasedthe first update on her Crime Reduction Strategy (CRS), which was first unveiled in February, 2007.

The update showed several areas where the CRS is working, including successes in preventing and deterring crime, apprehending and prosecuting offenders, rehabilitation and reducing unwarranted fear of crime.

All of this leads to how the city can plan for its breakneck growth, while creating a major metropolitan core, Watts said.

“Our strength is our people,” she said, noting that by 2050, Surrey will be home to more than 850,000 people. From now until that time, 70 per cent of the growth in this region will take place south of the Fraser, with one-third of that population being under the age of 19.

As part of that growth, Watts said it’s important to have a vibrant economy with jobs nearby.

She said the work is coming through several initiatives, including a successful trip to India and economic programs such as the Business Incubator, (a partnership between the private sector, city and universities), the reduction of red tape at city hall and the Economic Investment Zones, which see reduced costs of development for projects of more than $5 million. Savings include a three-year freeze on property taxes, deferral of development charges and 50 per cent off permit fees.

The latter has been so successful, Watts said, Surrey is extending the program until next year.

Creating a metropolitan core means building connected communities, she said, “building a city from the ground up – redefining Surrey.”

A lot of that requires bricks and mortar, which is mapped out in the city’s Build Surrey Program.

One of the highlights in that program, Watts said, is the new flagship City Centre Library which will open this fall. It continues to get good support from the private sector.

“I’m pleased to announce the first donor today,” Watts said. “The Surrey Leader – $50,000 of in-kind donations – Thank you.”

Other projects either in the works or being planned are a fitness facility, turf field and transit exchange for Newton; swimming pools for South Surrey and Guildford; an animal shelter for Cloverdale; and a new arena for Fleetwood.

Watts said the challenges that lie ahead include securing better transportation, such as light rail expansion beyond the SkyTrain terminus.

“The city gives $164 million a year in taxes a year (to senior levels of government),” Watts said. “There has been no transit expansion in 17 years, when the population was less than 250,000.”

Other challenges include a desperate shortage of schools, said Watts, who points out there hasn’t been any new capital funding for education since 2005, and  the school district must now use more than 200 portable classrooms.

Watts said she will continue pressing for those facilities and services, and with public assistance, the city will become so much more.

“With your help, we can be a catalyst for change and innovation, create jobs, attract investment and take advantage of growth opportunities,” she said.

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