Board of Trade backs budget, with caution on borrowing

Business group wants Surrey to be careful about building debt

Anita Patil Huberman

The Surrey Board of Trade is supporting the City of Surrey in its recent budget, noting the $200 million in borrowing goes a long way to bringing necessary services to the city.

However, the board wants Surrey to keep its borrowing in check.

On Monday, Surrey council gave final adoption to the 2011-2015 five-year financial plan, which includes the possibility of borrowing up to $194 million over five years. It will help pay for $280 million in projects, including the City Centre Library, a new city hall in Whalley and several other projects.

Alluding to a 10-year-freeze on property taxes, the Surrey Board of Trade (SBOT) said residents are enjoying some of the lowest tax rates in the region.

“Those past decisions have resulted in Surrey being unable to develop or extend or put into place its city core services and amenities as quickly as otherwise would have been achieved by having higher levels of taxation,” the SBOT said in a release Wednesday. “However, the ambitious Build Surrey Program, accelerated to be put in place over a five- to six-year period, will go a great distance to catch up.”

The SBOT believes the city will be able to pay down the $200 million debt in the short term to avoid higher interest rates, but the board cautioned against making a habit out of borrowing.

Pointing to a recent report from the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses (CFIB), the board is indicating Surrey should keep its spending sustainable.

“The City has to be careful. The City has to be very mindful of the taxpayer’s ability to pay,” the board of trade says. “The Surrey Board of Trade recommends that this be monitored and managed closely by city council and management, regardless of the relative low taxation levels of our taxpayers. Focusing on sustaining the City’s core services, some long term planning and related actions to manage expenditure growth over the longer term is necessary.”

Surrey Board of Trade CEO Anita Patil Huberman said the board was concerned at first when it saw the amount of debt, but was convinced the city had a solid plan on locking into low interest rates.

“We feel they have a plan, but we’re going to continue monitoring it,” Huberman said.

The board is pleased with how the city is handling crime reduction, noting that last year, the board had been asking for more resources in that area.

This year, Surrey is adding a further $300,000 in crime-reduction measures in this year’s budget, Huberman said.

The board also commended the city on its approach to its economic development strategy, city town centres and beautification, the environment and transportation.

However, the board wants to see more done with the 88 Avenue corridor.

The board of trade has served businesses in Surrey since 1918 and currently has a membership of more than 1,400.

kdiakiw@surreyleader.com