The long-dormant idea that South Surrey should join White Rock has again raised its head.
White Rock Coun. Grant Meyer says he would support any move to amalgamate what many people think of as one community, the Semiahmoo Peninsula, but he also acknowledges that any effort to bring the two areas together would have to be driven by South Surrey residents. That’s not only an accurate statement, but it also shows why any movement to amalgamate will be the equivalent of riding a bicycle up the Oxford Street hill.
The primary reason why amalgamation will go nowhere is a basic financial fact – people who live in South Surrey would pay substantially more property taxes if they were to join White Rock.
Taxes in White Rock are much higher than in Surrey, and there would not be a significant reduction if White Rock was enlarged to take in most or all of South Surrey.
It is true that South Surrey has a much stronger property tax base than it once had, with extensive commercial areas along 24 Avenue, 152 Street and 16 Avenue. This is in contrast to White Rock’s minuscule commercial tax base, which means that residential property owners must pay for the bulk of city services.
However, South Surrey taxpayers also benefit from the much larger commercial and industrial tax base throughout Surrey. Industrial areas such as Campbell Heights (which might or might not be considered part of an expanded White Rock), Port Kells, Newton and South Westminster contribute a tremendous amount in property taxes to Surrey, to say nothing of the jobs and other benefits they bring to the city.
If South Surrey and White Rock were to join, South Surrey residents would take on responsibility for upgrading the aging infrastructure of White Rock. One hint of those challenges came recently when a sewer line overflowed into a storm sewer, closing White Rock beach to swimming for four days.
Historically, there was a move to have parts of what is now South Surrey leaving the larger District of Surrey in the run-up to the incorporation of White Rock in 1957.
The actual boundaries of the City of White Rock were determined by the boundaries of Surrey’s Ward 7, from which one councillor was elected. Areas outside the ward remained in Surrey.
In 1957, there were virtually no urban areas in South Surrey.
The sole urban area was within the new City of White Rock, which had its own sewer plant and thus could make more land available for development.
The city grew substantially in the 1950s and 1960s, but by the early 1970s was completely built up. From then on, what development there has been in White Rock has been redevelopment – in some cases, into apartments and condominiums, and in others. the replacement of beach cabins with large homes.
Since 1957, the annexation of South Surrey into White Rock has come up occasionally. The last time there was any discussion in that direction was about 20 years ago.
South Surrey has developed into all the things that White Rock is incapable of becoming – a full commercial area, starting with a shopping centre across the street from White Rock. When that project was proposed in 1978, White Rock’s then-mayor Don MacDonald was indignant.
But Semiahmoo Shopping Centre was inevitable. White Rock had no land for such a facility, and the growth of the area demanded that there be new retail space.
As the area has continued to grow, more commercial areas have been added, with the latest and most dramatic the Grandview Corners area along 24 Avenue.
Meyer makes one point which Surrey needs to address, if it wants to keep separatist sentiments in South Surrey to a minimum. There must be a facility where South Surrey residents can conduct basic city hall interactions which will be closer than the new city hall being built in Whalley.
If that small detail is taken care of, South Surrey residents will happily remain part of Surrey for a long time to come.
Frank Bucholtz writes Fridays for the Peace Arch News. He is the editor of the Langley Times.