EDITORIAL: It all adds up

It remains to be seen what benefits Surrey’s massive new marble-and-glass city hall has brought.

The public seems divided on whether the north-end building is a suitably dignified statement of civic pride, or merely a gaudy monument to the hubris of the Watts administration.

However, the administration gets full marks on its mastery of the new math – if by ‘new math’ we mean making the sums come out exactly the way they want them.

The $97 million that Surrey borrowed to fund the hall has already run into flak from critics who’ve suggested some of our tax money would be better spent on policing and decaying infrastructure.

Regardless, that sum – touted as the price of its latest jewel – is far from being the bottom line. The project’s eventual price tag will be well nigh $150 million, if you factor in the nearly $2 million in annual interest charges over the 25-year terms of mortgages.

Relax, says Mayor Dianne Watts; the costs will be offset by leasing of Surrey’s old city hall. But even if every corner of that aging edifice in mid-Surrey were completely leased tomorrow – and every indication is this is far from likely – the annual income would be sufficient only to service the debt, not reduce it.

By the city’s new math, that means we, as taxpayers, will have only spent $97 million for the palatial city digs. By the math ordinary taxpayers use – as we scrimp to pay down our own loans – it means we are still forking over $147.9 million.

Among Watts’ most extravagant claims has been that the new hall has been the boost of confidence needed to attract $3 billion in investment in the downtown core, and its subsequent tax dollars. Whichever math you use, this would be a tough statement to quantify. How much of the investment is traceable to the building, and how much would have been coming anyway, given the city’s plans for the downtown core?

A $32-million parking facility? Taxpayers’ parking fees pay for that. A $9-million civic plaza? The taxpayers’ Surrey City Development Corporation will fund that.

Also neglected in the city’s sums on the new city hall is $2.5 million it has added for catwalks above the new council chambers.

That late addition, by administration figuring, is sufficient to transform it into a multi-purpose performing arts space. But it remains to be seen whether the space will be used by community groups – who may have a hard time making the math of a presumably high rental work for them – or whether the principal performance will be the grandiose theatrics of civic government.

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