Surrey Achievements 2015- II
Last week the Asian Journal spoke with Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner about the challenges and highlights of 2015, and while we reviewed some of the major items of the year, space did not allow for many other achievements enjoyed by the city. In this edition, we review business growth, fiscal developments, achievements, innovation, and a look at cultural and social events of the year.
Business & Finance:
Ray Hudson: How was the past year for growth in the business community?
Mayor Hepner: We’ve had $1.5 billion in new construction this year alone. Over the last ten years, we’ve done $12 billion so the business community continues to grow. The general population is still running between 800 and 1,000 a month, and I hear people saying that we’re running out of housing and we can’t keep up. It’s not slowing down at all, and tied in with business growth and development, I am delighted to report that Surrey was voted one of Canada’s top employers of young people. In 2015, Surrey received the highest grade of any city in the country for financial transparency. Even though we had to raise taxes to cover some of our capital programs and some of the operational dollars for the increased policing, we are still one of the lowest-taxed cities in the region. Also, I’m now calling City Centre the Financial hub since we’ve got the new Coast Capital centre and Westminster Savings located there.
Ray Hudson: You said you’d seek a city charter like the City of Vancouver has, which would give council greater control over our own affairs. Have you made any progress on that?
Mayor Hepner: The ministers responsible for Community Development have changed since we had that first discussion. Previously under Coralee Oakes, it is now the responsibility of Peter Fassbender (who is a Surrey MLA). I have had early discussions with him on that, but it hasn’t been a higher priority because of some more pressing issues. But we have agreed to set up a task force once the city has identified those areas where we think we can be best advantaged. The City Manager is currently working on compiling that list to take to Victoria before we can have our joint task force. That will unfold in 2016, but we did make limited progress on that.
Ray Hudson: You saw progress with innovation over the year.
Mayor Hepner: I was hoping Surrey would be number one, but being acknowledged as one of the top seven intelligent communities in the world is acknowledgement of the advancements we’ve made in our innovation. We’ll see where we are in 2016.” We were the first city in the world to integrate IBM Watson, which is a technology platform that uses natural language processing and machine learning to reveal insights from large amounts of unstructured data,” The Mayor said. “It was integrated with the “MySurrey App” and allows City customers to input plain language questions into the application and receive direct answers. We didn’t get a fanfare or a lot of attention around that but from a techie’s point of view it was an astonishing accomplishment. In public safety innovation we purchased five specialized fire tanker trucks. We’re the very first city in Canada to have vehicles with built-in water purification systems. If we have an actual emergency these tanker trucks are capable of providing potable drinking water.
Health, Social and Cultural Achievements:
Ray Hudson: One of your election promises was the convening of a Seniors Summit and appointment of a Seniors advocate. What has happened there?
Mayor Hepner: We have discussed how we’re going to do that but we haven’t named a person yet, but I think we’re going to put it under our Healthy Communities office. This will happen in the coming year, but we haven’t made a lot of progress on that yet because we’re still talking about our Seniors Summit. With respect to addictions and mental health, we created a partnership with John Volken, (of the John Volken Academy treatment centre) and that means a Mental Health and Addictions chair has been created at SFU, the job description is done and the recruitment underway, so in the coming year I expect to have a leadership role happening there, which I think will help us.
Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner.