Surrey city council has unanimously decided to borrow $150.6 million for three major community projects although some councillors expressed trepidation about the city taking on so much debt.
Council passed third reading Monday on authorizing borrowing, through the Municipal Finance Authority of British Columbia, $40 million to construct a sports complex in the city centre, $20.6 million to build a sports and ice complex in Cloverdale and $90 million to construct a community centre in Newton.
“We definitely need these facilities for our young families,” Councillor Linda Annis said. “However, I am concerned about the fact that we are borrowing such a significant amount of money. I feel that we need to be re-prioritizing what we’re doing rather than borrowing this kind of money.
“I think we should be living within our budgets,” she said. “Once we come out of COVID, what happens if the interest rates go up?”
“I don’t want to see us selling lands,” Annis said. “I do think that building these is an excellent idea, it’s the financing that concerns me and living within our means.”
Councillor Allison Patton said the time is right to borrow money, with interest rates being as low as they are. “If not now, when?”
“That’s what leaders do, is they figure out solutions when the time is right and when it makes sense,” she said. Councillor Jack Hundial said he would support it, “but very cautiously.
“I’m not a fan of borrowing if we don’t need to and there’s money elsewhere that we can be bringing in,” he said. “I want to be very careful moving forward.”
Councillor Steven Pettigrew said he supports the three projects but added he “would have preferred to see these done a different way. I don’t believe in increasing our debt burden to our city, but at this point we don’t have a whole lot of other options. I would have preferred to see the (policing) transition cancelled and the monies redirected from there into these projects.”
Councillor Brenda Locke also weighed in. “Likewise I’ll be supporting it, albeit cautiously as well,” she said. “I’m also concerned about the fiscal reality that we know we are in and the fiscal reality that we don’t know we are in, which is what the pandemic will do as we continue to move forward.
“I have one other wish, and that would be the pool for the people of Whalley, that is certainly something that I think is unfortunately not here and perhaps we can look at that at another opportunity.”
Councillor Mandeep Nagra the city needs to “starts investing” and council “needs to start thinking about the next four years.
“We can’t be talking about COVID,” Nagra said. “By then COVID is going to be long gone in the next four years. I think it’s almost over, we’re close to it. So now it’s a good time to start these projects.
“The interest rates are historically low so now is the good time to start.”
According to a corporate report by Kam Grewal, Surrey’s general manager of finance, the Cloverdale project will provide two more sheets of ice for that community and is estimated to cost $50.1 million, with $29.5 million of that funded through pay-as-you go city financing and the rest through long-term borrowing through the MFA.
Last October council unanimously authorized city staff to purchase 16 adjacent parcels of land in Newton for future parkland, road alignment and civic projects. It involves 7.24 acres, part of which embraces the former site of the Rona store at 6965 King George Blvd., which closed permanently on Jan. 26, 2020. Grewal said design work for the community centre is expected to begin early this year with 18 to 20 months of construction starting in late 2021.
Grewal noted design work for the city centre sports complex will begin early this year with construction targeted to begin in late 2021 and its expected completion in mid-2022. He added that design for the Cloverdale project is “essentially complete,” with construction expected to begin next year and be completed in early 2024.
Councillor Doug Elford said Surrey residents have told council they are in “desperate need of infrastructure.
“Is there ever a good time to borrow?” he asked rhetorically. “Right now I firmly believe the time is to move on this.
“We put them off, it’s just going to cost us more,” Elford said. “Let’s get going.”
Councillor Laurie Guerra noted that interest rates are “the lowest seen in 30-odd years.
“I think now is the best time to do this,” she said.
Mayor Doug McCallum chided council members outside his Safe Surrey Coalition for voting against and “speaking loud and hard and determined” against the city budget.
“I’m glad that you have changed your mind, but boy, I say it, this very truly, that, you know, we have to get some consistency in here and we need to be thinking of the city of Surrey, not of ourselves, how we can improve it,” McCallum said. “And it is really critical to those four that constantly voted against these projects, constantly voted against our budget, to all of a sudden turn around and support it, I mean, that’s to me, in my ears, it’s astonishing.”
“I’m glad to hear that council is unanimous in moving forward with this.”