Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum outside Surrey City Hall. (Now-Leader file photo)

UPDATE: Surrey mayor defends move to delay Cloverdale rink, other projects

Cloverdale Minor Hockey president says news of the proposed delay is ‘devastating’

The president of Cloverdale Minor Hockey Association said it’s “devastating” that the community’s planned ice complex is among projects that may be “postponed” if the city’s draft budget is adopted.

Marty Jones said he understands there are fiscal responsibilities, but stressed “these are not unnecessary things.”

“I’d get it if they didn’t want to build something we have an overabundance of. But we’re such a massively expanding community, especially in Cloverdale,” Jones added, noting infrastructure has not kept up with the growth.

Two new sheets were planned for the property, on the Cloverdale Fairgrounds just south of 64th Avenue and east of 177B Street. Some work had already begun preparing the site, and renderings had been released. It was expected to be complete in the summer of 2020.

See also: Here’s a first look at Surrey’s two new arenas

VIDEO: Trees cleared from site of future ice arena in Cloverdale

Jones said there is such a shortage of ice time that some children are getting up as early as 4 a.m. on weekdays, or staying out on the ice as late as 11:30 p.m., just to get in their practice time.

“People say, ‘There’s lots of rinks, all these private rinks,’ but what they don’t realize is the City of Surrey ice is what really helps to keep it affordable for our kids to even play,” Jones told the Now-Leader. “In some cases, it’s a third if not a quarter of the cost.”

Such cost increases could push some families out, he lamented.

“It’s more than just hockey – it’s sledge hockey, even City of Surrey programs themselves, the learn to skates, female figure skating, ringette, it’s dozens of user groups.”

Jones said he’s been president for about three years, and the ice complex is something there has been excitement about since that time.

“Now, it could be years. It’s quite sad,” he said. “I’m concerned, too, with the language – postpone. That could mean anything.”

McCallum spoke to reporters Tuesday morning about the proposed delay of the Cloverdale facility, and he pointed to land stability problems which would make the project “very expensive” to build.

See also: Unstable soil means more studies, drawings needed for Cloverdale Arena

See more: Cloverdale ice complex construction delayed

The mayor pointed to new sheets of ice expected to be complete in Bridgeview next year, and listed all the ice sheets around the city. McCallum told reporters that some hockey players who play at the Surrey Sport & Leisure Complex will move to the new Bridgeview arena when it opens in 2019, and he said that will free up ice time in Fleetwood for players in Cloverdale.

And, according to McCallum, hockey enrolment is dropping.

“We have, in the last eight or nine years, had a declining usage of ice for hockey over the last eight years. Each year, it’s declining in participation and usage and we do have a chart to show that to you. So we felt at this time the Cloverdale one was the one we needed to postpone for a while.”

To McCallum’s comments, Jones said the Cloverdale hockey association currently has about 900 children enrolled. Jones said he’d have to look at registrations to see if there had been any decline, but said if a drop in numbers existed, it could likely be attributed “to the lack of ice time.”

“We do have wait lists, and that’s primarily because of ice,” Jones added, noting some kids and their parents choose to leave because of the early and late ice times.

“Some of these kids are on the ice until 11:45 (p.m.) and have school the next day,” he said.

The Cloverdale ice complex is one of many capital projects that will be delayed, if the draft budget is adopted.

“Over the last several years, under the direction of previous Mayor and Councils, the City undertook an aggressive Capital Program, which required the acquisition of debt,” wrote City Manager Vincent Lalonde and General Manager of Finance Kam Grewal in their report, which was made public late Monday afternoon.

“External and Internal Debt resulting from previously approved General Capital Programs is $316 million. Furthermore, an additional $198 million would have been required to bring the adopted 2018-2022 General Capital Program to completion,for a total debt requirement of $514 million.”

This comes after McCallum stated in a release last week that he was “deeply dismayed and shaken to the core” that the city was “currently” carrying a debt load of $514 million, despite part of that debt not yet having been taken on.

See also: City of Surrey’s debt nowhere near McCallum’s figure of $514M

Now, the proposed 2019-2023 General Capital Program, the report states, incorporates a “pay as you go” approach.

“Accordingly, the proposed 2019-2023 General Capital Program reflects significant reductions to previously approved debt requirements,” Lalonde and Grewal’s report states.

The capital projects which have been proposed for postponement means a “reduction of required debt by $136 million,” it adds. By postponing these projects, according to the city report, total debt requirements have been reduced to $378million.

In addition to the suggested delay of the Cloverdale project, it’s proposed the city also delay the Grandview Heights Community Centre & Library, land acquisition for a performing arts space, expansion of the Fleetwood Community Centre &Library as well as something described as “Modular Child Care.”

It’s also suggested council postpone the relocation of the RCMP’s district office and “enhancement” of cell block and RCMP exhibit space.

Plans to create a “Glades Park” is also set to be delayed, as is an Indigenous gathering space and expansion to Newton Library.

Phase two of “10660 City Parkway” and a “Cultural Corridor” is also on the postponement list.

Three projects are proceeding, but with general operating funding, and they include Nicomekl Riverfront Park, Strawberry Hill Hall, Nicholson Park and bleachers for Tamanawis Park.

The draft financial plan also touches on projects that are underway, and expected to be completed next year, including a North Surrey Sport & Ice Complex, Surrey Museum expansion and improvements to Hawthorne Park.

Asked by reporters Tuesday if delaying these projects leave the community underserved, McCallum said, “I think our community is well served. We’re building community centres as I speak today in fast-growing areas of Surrey.”

Will he reconsider the projects at a later time?

“It’s up to council in the public process. What we wanted to do is be very transparent about what we’re going to do for the next five years. That needs to be put out in the public so they understand we need to reduce debt,” he said.

City’s proposed operating budget

Meantime, when it comes to the proposed operating budget, the draft financial plan incorporates “key drivers” that have been outlined by the new city council, including that the property tax rate be no more than the Consumer Price Index for the Greater Vancouver Region (2.9 per cent) and the “minimization, as much as possible, the level of corporate debt and associated debt payments.”

The proposed budget suggests that no RCMP will be added to the current force, which has 843 members currently, given the city’s intended transition to a municipal force. In 2018, 12 officers were hired.

Even without hiring any new officers, the city is looking at an additional $4.81 million in policing for costs such as the annualization of the 12 positions added this year, salary increases, operations and maintenance costs, and increased funding for integrated teams. Another $1.38 million in expenses is expected for RCMP support services.

The budget proposes spending an additional $330,000 per year on the bylaw department, to reflect labour increases and other operating costs, including costs related to upgrading of a bylaws radio system. The report notes the bylaw department’s Community Patrol Officer Program that’s been in place for over four years “has been considered a success”and “such programs play a key role in engaging with the community and early identification of local safety concerns.”

“This model will be further reviewed once more details on Surrey’s police department emerges,” the draft budget notes.

When it comes to the fire department, the report notes eight firefighters were hired in 2018: four who were employed for the entire year, and four who worked from “mid to late” 2018. It’s proposed the latter are made permanent. The city is looking at an additional $2.75 million in expenses for the fire department, in all, including the annualization of the four-firefighters, as well as labour increases and the Employer Health Tax.

There’s an additional funding requirement of $9.27 million for public safety, when factoring in police, fire, and bylaws. The city is also facing a $9.53 million increase in corporate expenses, including the Employer Health Tax, labour increases, and more.

In all, that’s an additional $18.8 million in expenses on the city’s books for 2019.

To pay for that, the following new funding is expected: an increase of $10.14 million in property taxes; $3.35 million in increased tax revenue expected from growth; $0.3 million in additional revenue from Fire Dispatch Service’s new clients;and $5.01 million from other departmental revenue changes.

How much will taxes rise?

According to the draft financial plan, the property tax increase will work out to approximately $59 per year for the average single-family dwelling. It will “predominately be used to offset increased public safety resourcing and expenditures.”

There are other planned utility increases. When it comes to water rates, it’s expected there will be an average increase of $17.76 per year for the “average metered single family dwelling” that uses 360 cubic metres of water per year. Those without a meter are expected to see an annual increase of $39.00 per year, on average.

Sewer utility rates are expected to rise by $46.45 per year for the “average metered single family dwelling,” while non-metered residential customer will see an $103 per year increase.

The Drainage Parcel Tax, currently $223 per lot for residential, recreation and agricultural properties, is set to rise by $2 per year to $225.

Increases are also planned for waste collection: a $3 increase is proposed for single- and multiple-family residents, and a $1 increases for secondary suite customers, to $290 and $145, respectively.

“The increase will support general litter cleanup around the city and capital infrastructure for street cleaning initiatives,” the draft financial plan states. “Staff also recommends increasing the rates for apartment/townhouse recycling customers by $5 to $30 and for apartment/townhouse recycling and organic customers by $5 to $40 for the implementation of LIPU (Large Item Pick-Up) services at apartment and townhouse buildings.”

It all adds up to a roughly $128.21 increase for the average single-family home in Surrey in 2019, assuming the draft financial plan is approved.

Meantime, the proposed budget includes no increase to the Road and Tax Levy, which was established in 2008 as a revenue source to “meet the growing traffic and safety needs of the city.” It is used to maintain roads, install traffic calming measures, crosswalks, sidewalks and “reduce congestion throughout the city.”

The budget proposed to eliminate a planned one per cent increase to this road and traffic levy. If approved this move will “reduce the City’s repaving program, bike and sidewalk program, and land acquisition program by approximately $60 million over five years.”

The city’s Finance Committee is set to review the plan on Dec. 11.

The documents were just made available this afternoon.

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