The mayor of Surrey said he was disappointed and shocked & # 39; by the city debt burden



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Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum said he was "very anxious" by the city's volatile debt and vowed to get it under control.

But not everyone agrees about the amount of debt and what needs to be done.

The controversy began when the mayor issued a news release after midnight Tuesday saying he was "shaken to the core" when he learned about red ink in city books.

"The council has been told that the city currently carries a debt of $ 514 million," said a statement from the mayor's office.

In fact, CBC News has confirmed the debt burden found in the city's financial statements from December 2017 is $ 267 million or around $ 500 per resident.

On Tuesday afternoon, the mayor's office issued a follow-up statement saying, "The actual $ 514 million is the city's projected debt to be charged under the current five-year financial plan approved in December 2017, if allowed to proceed to settlement."

The pay-as-you-go system is proposed

As part of his plan to reduce debt, McCallum said he wanted to see Surrey "operate like an ordinary household" by saving and paying bills according to the deadline.

The mayor said he believed the planned pay-as-you-go system would not affect programs and services throughout the city. But he said on a board the statement must determine how "responsibly proceed with capital projects."

Doug McCallum was installed as Surreal mayor at a ceremony at the city hall on November 5, 2018. (Colin Fode / CBC)

"When I was a mayor for nine years, I was very proud of managing city finances by saving first and avoiding debt. The board and I agreed to immediately bring the city's fiscal home in order," McCallum said.

Debt is exaggerated?

But McCallum's former opponent said the new mayor overestimated Surrey's financial problems. Bruce Hayne is a former Surrey council member who opposed McCallum in the October elections.

"I think there is a fear that occurs because I do not believe, first of all, that the debt is more than $ 500 million. I see the financial statements and that, as I said, is around $ 250 million."

Tom Gill also ran for mayor against McCallum after years on the board and said McCallum's late night news release of "shaky debt" was too exaggerated given the massive growth in Surrey. He said seeing debt alone ignored the city's surplus and assets.

"The accumulated surplus for the city is more than one billion dollars," he said, noting Surrey was recently honored by C.D. Howe Institute to be financially transparent.

Gill said there was investment in the city center in the past decade with the establishment of new city centers, new city halls, two water centers, five ice rinks and other infrastructure projects.

The city of Surrey built a new city hall four years ago. (CBC)

And he criticized how the books were balanced when McCallum became mayor, noting in the past Surrey City sold 100 million dollars in land to avoid raising property taxes.

Lost debt or scapegoat?

"I have great concerns about what happened in the past and that is something I personally stopped as chief financial officer," he told CBC.

Gill believes the land sold will be far more valuable now.

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

"[Surrey] it is very well located and our finances are very strong … It is a pity that the government cannot fulfill their promise of looking for scapegoats and seeing the past. "

Since being elected, McCallum has promised to replace the Light Rail Transit (LRT) project approved by SkyTrain. He also promised to replace Surrey RCMP with city police services.

Both are expensive projects with uncertain price tags.

The budget report prepared by staff will be presented to the Surprise financial committee on December 11. McCallum said he and the council would not comment further until they had reviewed the document.

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