COLUMN: Talk of amalagmation is merely ‘idle chatter’ at this point

Recent comments by Surrey Coun. Allison Patton that Surrey and White Rock should explore amalgamation were not completely surprising.

However, White Rock Mayor Darryl Walker’s response that the issue is a “non-starter” is 100 per cent correct. As he noted, both cities have more than enough on their plates right now.

Over the more than 60 years since the two broke apart in 1957, very few White Rock residents have shown interest in once again becoming part of Surrey. The more persistent campaigns over the years have involved White Rock expanding its boundaries to take in some of what is now known as South Surrey. Even that idea has been dormant for some time, as the Surrey property tax rate is lower and few South Surrey property owners want to pay more taxes just to be part of White Rock.

When White Rock became independent, it was the culmination of a campaign that had lasted over a decade. Interestingly, many of its leaders were relative newcomers to White Rock. The area attracted more residents after the Second World War and some of these people felt Surrey was slow in providing more urban services.

The separation occurred at a unique time in provincial politics, which was crucial to the outcome. The province has the final say on municipal boundaries. The Social Credit government of W.A.C. Bennett was relatively new, was open to different ways of doing things, and the separatists had an advocate in Social Credit MLA Tom Irwin, who represented the Delta constituency which included both Surrey and White Rock.

As both cities have grown, and in particular as South Surrey has grown to be the dominant business centre on the Semiahmoo Peninsula, White Rock has faced many challenges. The tax base is primarily residential, the business community is challenged by high taxes and a very seasonal customer base along the beach, and city services have required extensive upgrading.

One of the biggest challenges was with the privately-owned water system, which the city eventually took over under former mayor Wayne Baldwin, and has since spent millions on upgrades. The current council was elected in October, with most of its members opposed to the growth policies of the former council.

While the city faces challenges, it is very unlikely that there would be any appetite to join Surrey. White Rock taxpayers, for the most part, are ready to pay more and much prefer a council that is focused solely on their city and not the sprawling and varied communities within Surrey.

The fight underway in Surrey over the new police force is also not attractive to many White Rock residents. White Rock RCMP is very responsive to even routine calls, and almost no one in White Rock would feel better served by a Surrey Police force.

The two cities are generally good neighbours, as was shown when Surrey Fire Department and Surrey water played an important role is assisting in the fighting of a huge fire at a Five Corners apartment complex a few years ago. This same spirit of neighbourliness has occurred on many occasions over the past 60 years.

The amalgamation issue is best left alone, until taxpayers in both cities feel it is worthy of more exploration. The two councils have plenty to do, and speculation about joining the two together again is merely idle chatter at this point in time.

Frank Bucholtz writes Wednesdays for Peace Arch News, as well as at frankbucholtz.blogspot.ca – email frank.bucholtz@gmail.com

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