Wednesday , October 5 2022

Surrey mayor says he is "upset and shaken" by the city's debt burden



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Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum says he is "deeply upset" by the burgeoning debt of the city and promises to get it under control.

But not everyone agrees with the size of the debt and what needs to be done.

The controversy began when the mayor issued a press release shortly after midnight on Tuesday saying he was "shaken at the core" when he learned about the red ink in the city's books.

"The Council has noted that the city currently has a debt of $ 514 million," said the Mayor's statement.

CBC News has actually confirmed that the debt burden in the city's financial report from December 2017 is $ 267 million or about $ 500 per inhabitant.

By the end of Tuesday afternoon, the mayor's office issued a follow-up certificate saying: "The $ 514 million figure is actually the forecasted debt that the city would incur under the current five-year plan approved in December 2017, if it had to continue."

Pay-as-you-go system is suggested

As part of his plan to get the debt down, McCallum says he wants to see Surrey "act as a regular household" by saving and paying bills as they depend.

The mayor says he is convinced that the planned payment system will not affect programs and services all over the city. But he said in a statement the council has to decide how to "remain responsible for capital projects."

Doug McCallum swore in as Surry Mayor at a ceremony in the town hall on November 5, 2018. (Colin Fode / CBC)

"When I was a mayor for nine years, I took great pride in driving the city's finances by saving first and avoiding debt." The Council and I have agreed to immediately bring in the city's tax house in order, "said McCallum.

Debt excessive?

But a former opponent of McCallum says the new mayor surrenders Surrey's financial problems. Bruce Hayne is a former Surrey councilor who ran to McCallum in the municipal elections in October.

"I think there's a lot of fear to hang on because I think, first and foremost, the debt is over $ 500 million. I looked at the financial statements and, as I said, somewhere around $ 250 million."

Tom Gill also ran to Mayor of McCallum after years on the council saying that McCallum's "Emerging Debt" alert is excessive given the huge growth in Surrey. He said watching the debt alone ignores the city's surplus and assets.

"The accumulated surplus of the city is well over one billion dollars," he said, and noted that Surrey was recently honored by C.D. Howe Institute to be economically transparent.

Gill says that investments have been made in the city center over the last decade with the creation of a new center core, a new town hall, two aquatic centers, five icebanes and other infrastructure projects.

Surrey City built a new town hall four years ago. (CBC)

And he criticizes how the books balanced when McCallum was mayor and noted in the past city of Surrey sold away $ 100 billion to avoid raising property taxes.

Spiral debt or scapegoat?

"I have major concerns about what happened earlier and that's something I personally stop as CFO," he told the CBC.

Gill believes that the land that was sold would be much more valuable now.

Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum, left and Vancouver mayor Kennedy Stewart, right met both with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau after they were chosen and said it was their priority to work together. (Justin McElroy / CBC)

"[Surrey] is very good and our economy is very strong. It's unfortunate that a government that can not deliver its promises is looking for a scapegoat and looking at the past. "

Since then, McCallum has promised to replace an approved Light Rail Transit (LRT) project with SkyTrain. He has also promised to replace the Surrey RCMP with a city-run police service.

Both are expensive projects with insecure price tags.

A budget report prepared by staff will be presented to Surrey's Finance Committee on December 11. McCallum said he and the council will not comment further until they have reviewed that document.

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