The Surrey Town Hall series organized by the City of Surrey as part of the commitment to establish better communication and cooperation with citizens, visited Fleetwood for their final meeting. A group of approximately 45 people gathered at the Surrey Sports and Leisure Complex with a rare opportunity to meet the Mayor and members of the Council and discuss the current state of the community. In attendance were Mayor Dianne Watts and Councillors Barinder Rasode and Marvin Hunt. They were joined by Planning and Engineering GM’s, Jean Lamontagne and GM Engineering, Vince Lalonde.
Security, bylaw enforcement and a the clean up of Fleetwood were the most interesting areas of discussion on Tuesday evening. Tuesday’s Town Hall confirmed that each of our communities are unique within the City, with differences in prioritization of problems and needs.
Residents express concerns to the Mayor and Council
BYLAW ENFORCEMENT AND INTERGOVERNMENTAL RELATIONS
Municipal government is introducing bylaws to prevent future illegal activities in Surrey due to the high costs of dealing with law breakers. This element of governmental functioning still presents one of the biggest problems for local authorities. Enforcement of bylaws is crucial to help the local government deal with offenders without getting involved in lengthy court processes and placing a strain on resources.
Speaking on behalf of Council, Mayor Watts clearly expressed her wish to see new branch of judicial authority – bylaw courts. These will allow for accelerated proceedings and faster decisions, followed by an increased rate of implementation of bylaws in Surrey. Utilizing more power from the provincial level would increase the abilities for the municipal governments to fight against those who don’t follow the letter of the law. Currently, a simple legal process could take 3 to 4 years, including numerous possible appeals. According to Mayor Watts, the introduction of bylaw courts could shorten legal battles for up to several years.
This is not the only issue where local government is attempting to move forward despite intergovernmental relations and authority divides. A group of citizens from Newton asked the Mayor and Councillors how they can permit the transformation of a community bingo hall into a potential casino facility in their community. The answer: the City doesn’t have any authority over bingo/casino halls and all regulations are in hands of the Provincial government (BCLC). Community halls are a valuable resource of revenue for the province of British Columbia through gambling, bingo and slot machines. Funds gathered through these activities are used to support amateur sports, arts and community organizations across the Province. However, there’s significant fear among Surrey residents regarding the proposed facility in Newton. The possibilities of addiction, poverty, and financial issues for the most vulnerable populations were of concern. Residents could call on the Mayor and Council to send a letter to the Provincial government, but in my opinion Newton citizens could also write to the local MLA and ask for help in resolving this issue. It is valuable for citizens to learn more about the differences and division of responsibilities of each branch of government in Canada. This understanding helps to clarify the roles of the City and the Province, especially when discussing issues that involve the conflict between the rights and duties of each.
Mayor Watts and Councillor Rasode respond to the issues
CLAYTON – SECURITY, COMFORT AND INFRASTRUCTURE
A group of Clayton area residents expressed their concerns in hopes to hear more from the elected officials regarding future plans for their community. Coach houses, usually built on the far side of properties, are bringing in a big number of new residents than was anticipated when the area was in development. Those who call Clayton home described that due to a lack of parking space, cars are parked on both sides of some streets. This could potentially compromise security and safety if emergency responders or other essential services providers were unable to access the scene in a timely manner due to the lack of space on the streets. There is a rising fear and concern from the residents that the current state of their streets could lead to an unfortunate incident. A strong promise was given by the City officials that these and similar issues will be looked at and required action will follow as soon as possible.
This group also asked the Mayor and Council to invest more in infrastructure projects, new schools (due to rising population) and for further planning for this vibrant and proud community. I’m not sure when these wishes will be fulfilled, but I am sure that the City will add them to the list of all other areas in need for more infrastructure, schools and planning.
DRUGS, RCMP AND BLOCK WATCH
Problems with drug dealers and buyers around parks and community buildings in the the city is a battle. Recently we heard some concerns from residents in the Newton area. The residents asked for some important advice on this issue: what to do, how to contact police and what they need to be able to act. We learned from RCMP representative at the meeting that the best solution is a simple phone call providing details on location, car plate numbers or any other suspicious activity without endangering your own safety. A tip from this discussion: a simple pair of household binoculars can be a good tool if you witness suspicious activity in your neighbourhood. Residents being aware and providing information will help the police to combat the drug sellers and other forms of criminal activity.
The City and RCMP, gave kudos to the Block Watch groups and stressed the importance of their activities in the fight against crime at the micro level. Councillor Marvin Hunt discovered the importance of Block Watch when he was searching for the best option for home insurance. He learned that he could save $200/year on the insurance if his neighbourhood had a Block Watch. At the time, the neighbourhood did not have one, so Councillor Hunt moved forward with a proposal and became the first leader of the newly – formed Block Watch in his neighbourhood. Forming a Block Watch is not only beneficial for crime prevention, but also offers incentives for your property’s insurance.
TOLLING, FUNDS AND PROPERTY TAXES
Mayor Dianne Watts, absent from previous meetings due to a trip to Geneva, Switzerland and an unforeseen circumstance when she was back in Surrey, was very open and talkative with attendees. Mayor Watts attempted to answer all questions and addressed issues related to tolling, funds for infrastructure and property tax increases. Mayor Watts explained that her and the Council’s vision is to have fair tolling on all bridges and a fair share of funds collected and distributed. Mayor Watts’ stand is strong on the possibility of an increase in property taxes, expressing that The City of Surrey doesn’t want to burden its residents if they will not get a fair share of projects and investment for their communities.