COLUMN: Saving their way to second-class status

Delaying community projects that keep pace with Surrey population is penny-wise and pound-foolish

The new Surrey council is looking at delaying a number of capital projects, out of concern for the level of debt.

These include a new ice arena in Cloverdale. Site clearing has already taken place, but no construction has started. Also on the postponement list are a community centre and library for Grandview Heights, and expansion of the Fleetwood Community Centre.

Several other capital projects also face delay.

Mayor Doug McCallum has made a lot of noise about $514 million in capital debt. Yet the debt level is not that high. At present, it sits at $378 million. The delayed projects would add another $136 million in debt, which is where the $514 million figure comes in.

Debt-servicing costs are low, due to low interest rates. Surrey is on track to become B.C.’s largest city within the next 20 years.

The City of Surrey is now falling into the trap that has long ensnared the provincial government. Delay much-needed projects in a fast-growing city out of fiscal concerns, and reduce the level of services available. Construction of schools and hospitals has been delayed because of this approach, and the net effect is that Surrey residents are second-class citizens.

The delay of an ice arena hits particularly hard. Young people need to have meaningful activities to take part in, to keep them fit, active and out of reach of gangs. Surrey has more than its share of gang-related deaths; one reason is that young people are attracted to a life of crime because they are not involved in other activities.

The city has been building new recreation facilities at a steady pace in the past decade. This is necessary. Surrey has a large population of young people. They need constructive outlets for their abundance of energy. It makes far more sense to build such projects than to constantly spend more on policing, whether it is the RCMP or a new police force.

It is also notable that the three major projects being delayed are in areas with large and growing populations. Grandview is already affected by a lack of funding for new schools, which would bring school sports. Now the fast-growing South Surrey neighbourhood will not have a community centre and library.

The existing Cloverdale Arena, built almost a half-century ago, serves hockey, skating and lacrosse participants from a wide area. Although fast-growing Clayton nearby has been developing rapidly for close to 20 years, it is only in the last year that the city has actually invested in recreation infrastructure there – a community centre, still under construction.

Fleetwood is also fast-growing, and another expansion of its community centre makes sense. Population density will increase, a direct result of the planned SkyTrain along Fraser Highway.

Taxpayers appreciate council being prudent, and a number of budget initiatives under consideration make sense. However, delaying recreation and community projects that keep pace with the population increase is a penny-wise and pound-foolish approach to building a city.

Frank Bucholtz writes Wednesdays for Peace Arch News.

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