White Rock Mayor Wayne Baldwin says the city is economically viable, free of debt and is not too small to exist on its own.
He made those remarks at a State of the City address last Thursday. And there is no reason to doubt what he says, at least for the present.
What he did not say is that taxes in White Rock are higher than for similarly-assessed properties in Surrey. He didn’t get into how to increase the city’s tax base, as there is no industrial land, a minimal amount of commercial property and few opportunities to increase density.
The net result is that the tax burden will fall more and more on the shoulders of residential property owners.
While the wealthy (and there are a fair number of them in White Rock) won’t feel much of a pinch, people of more most modest means who own homes in White Rock may have a great deal to be concerned about as time goes by.
Baldwin was the longtime administrator of the city, before retiring and then deciding to run for mayor. There is likely no one as familiar with the state of city finances, nor is there a more fierce defender of the city’s independence.
It is likely that, if a referendum were held, those who voted would stay independent. White Rock is proud of its independence, and citizens certainly have more access to politicians and city staff than they would if White Rock were to return to Surrey, which is the only other logical outcome.
Suggestions of South Surrey seceding from Surrey and joining with White Rock have been made on and off for more than 40 years, but such an action is highly unlikely. Most South Surrey residents have little interest in paying higher taxes, and they are more proud of their association with Surrey than they have been for many years.
The mayor says being surrounded on three sides by Surrey is to White Rock’s benefit, as “people in South Surrey orient themselves with White Rock, it just works that way.”
I’m not quite sure how that benefits White Rock, other than to let more people know where the city is located.
Baldwin’s boast about no debt may not last long. The city is seriously considering buying the water utility from Epcor, and while there are advantages to it becoming a municipal utility, the city does not have a pot of cash to buy the waterworks. It will have to borrow at least some of the money.
There are also many infrastructure challenges. Some roads have not been paved in years, and the water and sewer infrastructure needs upgrading in many areas of the city.
White Rock still has the challenges of thinking “small.” Nowhere is this more obvious than at city council.
The latest controversy is over moving the council chambers to another building owned by the city. Council agreed to the move, and has now reversed itself. It appears this latest move came after talk of a potential lessee of the new building came to council’s attention – despite the fact that nothing appears to be very definite yet.
It is also obvious when the city talks about its future. While it has so many advantages, the city hasn’t done much to sell those advantages to potential investors.
The attitude seems to be that it’s up to investors to find out about White Rock for themselves.
Maybe that’s part of the charm of the city. Despite its superlative ovation, it doesn’t really want to let too many people know about it. The good news is, that for those who know about it, the city remains an oasis of calm (most of the time) in an increasingly-busy Metro Vancouver area.
Frank Bucholtz writes Thursdays for the Peace Arch News. He is the editor of the Langley Times.