Watt’s the deal with the $97 million dollar, new city hall?
It was not without feeling a certain sense of irony that I discovered the theme of the public art project being planned for the new city hall that is still just a large hole of mud in Whalley, is democracy.
“Inspired by the theme of “Democracy” the artwork will anticipate Surrey’s diverse community, and the various use of this facility …The project budget is $500,000, inclusive of all costs including artist fees, design, materials, insurance, all engineering expenses, fabrication, delivery, installation, travel and taxes. “
Ironic, because as far as I can see, there has been nothing democratic at all about this project, since it was first nurtured from conception as part of Dianne Watts grand vision to create”the other” new urban, downtown core – other than Vancouver, that is.
That vision includes a completely new city hall in Whalley, and current mayor Dianne Watts and council, even created a new bylaw that would allow them to borrow $ 97 million dollars to finance the project, with no public consultation at all to determine if taxpayers were on board with this.
Remind you of anyone? Indeed! But let’s go back to the very contentious beginnings of this vision, where expropriation was the method the city used to get the property they wanted to make this vision a reality.
Watts city team was accused of lowballing property owners with offers far below market appraisal, but the city was largely unsympathetic, considering what might be market value elsewhere, is not likely to be the market value in Whalley. North Surrey still suffers to this day from a variety of social and criminal issues despite the Central City Mall and SFU campus – both of which require a visible plethora of security guards to keep the peace, contradicting the glossy PR being promoted by the city and developers.
Undeterred by the very real obstacles to rebrand Whalley, and Surrey as a whole, Watts forged ahead and on July 26th, 2010, Bylaw #17231 passed three readings – and the taxpayers of Surrey were ever closer to assuming $97 million dollars of debt to make Watts and her majority Surrey First council’s new city hall a reality.This was approved by the Deputy inspector of municipalities on August 24th, 2010, and Dianne Watts signed approval for this loan on September 13th 2010.
$97 million PLUS, on taxpayers backs because one mayor deems it “desirable to construct a new city hall” – words taken directly from the bylaw itself – which clearly denotes even in the wording thereof, that it is not a need for a new city hall, but a desire – pure and simple.
But wait, did I mention that Watts and council spent $15 million( or so we are told, this link states over $1 billion in value) about 5 and 1/2 years ago to renovate and expand the existing city hall? Or that the reason why the current city hall is located where it is – off Highway 10 and King George Highway – is because that is a geographically central location to ALL Surrey residents and businesses?
If the project were to continue, residents of East Surrey, Cloverdale, Newton, South Surrey, Crescent Beach, Fleetwood, etc., will be forced to make the long drive in congested traffic to Whalley. Just add that gas cost, of which she voted to increase for you, onto the cost of the new, $ 97 million dollar city hall. Lets even forget that a large percentage of industry and residents requiring use of city hall services reside in Newton/Cloverdale and elsewhere.
Many have wondered why, in this recessionary period in which all industries seem to be taking hits and governments everywhere are cutting back, current mayor Dianne Watts and the Surrey First council,are still moving ahead aggressively with this city hall vision, financed entirely by debt.
Debt which when you calculate $ 97 million over the term of the loan, which is 30 years, at an interest rate for government, and add in contingencies for rising costs for when the building cost actually begins… you are looking at approximately $ 200 million, give or take a few million. All on the backs of Surrey residents, who are dealing with the realities of tough economic times, cutbacks, lay-offs, overcrowded schools, rising grocery costs, rising housing costs… and of course,rising fuel costs, courtesy in part to Watts who voted to raise both property tax and the tax on gas… well, you have one big slap in the face to the 99 % of Surrey who are average, working people trying to stay ahead of the bills.
In particular when the city is willing to spend a half of a million dollars on one art project to make the atrium look pretty.
When the project was first announced by Watts, she said it was estimated at a net cost of $50 million, knowing full well the bylaw approving a $97 million dollar loan was about to pass third reading at council. Every council member knew this. And yet the total cost of the loan was never mentioned.
Surprisingly, when I looked at the most recent financial statements for the city of Surrey, this loan was not even included in the audited report because it was deemed a ” Subsequent event” to the report.
All of this, with no public consultation of any kind. That is only part of why Ross Buchanan, an independent candidate challenging the mayors position in Surrey this year, is calling not only for an immediate halt to the project, but for a full public reveal and review of this entire debacle.
“ Surrey residents are becoming increasingly angered by what is seen as a lack of transparency and democracy at city hall, and this project has been pushed through regardless of concerns.” Buchanan states: “The current city hall is central to all Surrey neighourhoods and recently underwent $15 million in renovations. The impact of moving city hall to Whalley will mean long, congested drives for the remainder of Surrey residents who are already complaining about the questionable location in North Surrey.”
“There is room to expand if needed and in tough economic times, a $97 million project like this, financed completely as debt to taxpayers, is incredibly irresponsible. The total cost of the city hall alone will likely be over $200 million with interest compounded over the 30 year life of the debt.”
Ross Buchanan states that when the project was first announced it was estimated at $50 million(net), then climbed to $64 million(net), and latest estimates have reached $94 million – all figures he considers a whitewash considering Watts and council signed the bylaw for the full $97 million debt in 2010. Buchanan is determined to see construction and planning stopped immediately, and a full reveal and review of the project in conjunction with broad public consultation, before continuing.
“ It is hard not to make the comparison to the Vancouver Trade and Convention Centre boodoggle, because the parallels between the two projects are astonishing.”