Because schools out for summer, that means I am juggling summer vacation along with my other commitments… and finding concentrated time to blog is difficult at best.
So, over the summer I promise I will find time to do an occasional blog here and there, but will also be inviting others to do guest posts on different issues and topics, and re-running some past posts that are still very relevant to people and politics in B.C. I know that many readers are asking for more provincial posts, and I will definitely have some coming, but thank you all for understanding the focus on Surrey occasionally as issues heat up here in the city!!
Today, I’m hosting a guest blog by Gary Cameron, founding member of the Grandview Heights Stewardship Association, as he explores his reasons… and perhaps yours… for voting wisely in the next municipal election. While his post is about his views on Surrey planning,development and funding, the same can be said for looking to see what drives the direction and activities of city halls everywhere.
As usual.. all you have to do is follow the money.
When you speak to Surrey residents, most will say that a reasonable level of development is inevitable and even desirable, but in the same breath they’ll tell you that development is now obviously out of control as evidenced by the latest nightmare subdivision they’ve seen created in their own neighbourhood.
When asked what should be done, they invariably shrug their shoulders and say something about not being able to fight developers and Surrey City Hall.
There’s a huge difference between reasonable development and overdevelopment, which is often characterized by a lack of meaningful consultation with the community, inappropriate high-density construction that is premature or excessive in terms of demands on infrastructure and services, and urban infill subdivisions forced on suburban neighbourhoods that don’t want them.
So, what is driving the current overdevelopment in our community, aside from the fact that there appears to be an insatiable demand for housing in the Lower Mainland?
I read the 2014-2018 Surrey Financial Plan and noticed a pie chart on page 12 entitled 2013 Budget: Where the Money Comes From. It shows that Developer Contributions and Developer Cost Charges amounted to 21.1% and 14.9% respectively of the city’s revenue sources for a total of 36%. Taxation for city purposes was only 32.7%.
I checked several other municipalities and there were none where the amount raised by developer fees and contributions was even close to tax revenue, let alone in excess of it.What does this mean to Surrey taxpayers?
Given the fact that Surrey is considering running up some substantial debt does it seem wise to count on raising 36% of its revenue from development sources given the fact that the economy will inevitably face a downturn sooner or later, and the housing market could crash at any time?
Lest you think it can’t happen here, remember the 2007 US subprime mortgage financial crisis where housing prices fell nearly 30% on average. Consider what might happen to our housing market if interest rates spike upwards suddenly or if the economy once again slides into a deep recession.
There are other ramifications from overdevelopment. At this website they examine what recently happened to the Florida housing markets: “Too often local politicians approve residential development without consideration of its huge costs: roads, schools, police, fire, water, sewer, garbage, etc. These costs are paid by taxpayers, through local sales taxes, property taxes and assessments. Local politicians justify unrestrained residential development on the theory that it will pump up the local tax base because developed land generates higher property taxes than undeveloped land. In reality, these politicians fail to calculate the full costs associated with providing infrastructure and services to the new development. Even at the height of the (housing) bubble, taxes and impact fees generated by new development failed to cover basic infrastructure and services costs. When the bubble burst and property values collapsed, tax revenues also collapsed. But the recent development still requires infrastructure and services. These costs are largely fixed and local government is stuck with them. To compensate, politicians have raised taxes and diverted revenue.”
A recently updated US study reflected on the problem of overdevelopment in the New York area:
“So what are the implications of overdevelopment of residential units in Upstate communities? It bears repeating: since residential development is the most expensive land use to government and taxpayers, the residentially overbuilt communities are likely facing worsening fiscal deficits and growing difficulties providing and maintaining infrastructure and services. In addition, these communities will continue to experience more vacant properties and the associated costs, and lose their open space and farmland, as well as rural character and heritage, as the excessive new housing continues to spill into the countryside.”
So, will Surrey suffer long-term damage as a result of the overdevelopment we are currently experiencing?
The answer is that nobody really knows, because as far as I can tell there is no accountability or oversight of the way Surrey Council has handled development issues in our city, and overdevelopment continues unabated.
As Laila Yuile stated in a recent blog post: “The city of Surrey is still growing tremendously, and the struggles of unchecked development at a pace that has exceeded the ability of the provincial and federal governments to keep pace with funding, are stark. It did not stop with McCallum, but continued under Watts.”
Is there a solution? Given the history of politics in Surrey it won’t come from the current crop of Surrey First politicians.
Here’s a Vancouver Sun story on the 2012 Surrey election entitled: “Construction sector cash built up Surrey First’s campaign.”My advice?
Vote wisely in the upcoming municipal election.